Social Housing Speed Read – Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill 2017-2019: Are landlords facing a disrepair claim time-bomb?
4th September, 2018
In this week's Speed Read, we discuss the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill 2017-2019, and its potential impact on landlords as it steadily creeps towards being given Royal Assent.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill 2017-2019 (the “Bill”) has been given a snappier, more easily digestible name (it was originally entitled the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill) and is now due to enter into its Report Stage in the House of Commons next month, on 26 October 2018.
As readers may already well be aware, the main purpose of the Bill is to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation; although this term is already there, for historical reasons it applies only to homes rented for under £250 per year.
If the Bill is enacted in it’s present form, the rent limit in s.8, Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, would be removed. The upshot of this is to essentially imply a term into all residential tenancies granted for an initial term of less than seven years that the property be fit for human habitation when let and throughout the term.
Who supports it?
Following its introduction as a Private Members Bill by Karen Buck MP, the Bill has seen public support from a wide range of organisations, including (but certainly not limited to) Shelter, Mind, Citizens Advice, the Residential Landlords Association and the Association of Residential Letting Agents.
In their view, the Bill is required as landlords presently have no obligation to their tenants to keep a property in a condition fit for habitation. There are, of course, obligations in relation to the structure of the property, installations for space and water heating etc, but these typically apply after something has already gone wrong, (i.e. is in “disrepair”) and does not cover other issues, such as fire safety or poor ventilation/insulation resulting in condensation.
What’s the likely impact?
The Bill would allow a tenant to take action against the landlord to make them put right any problems that make the property “unfit” and also allow the tenant to seek compensation when the landlord has failed in their obligation to maintain the property to a standard that is “fit for human habitation”.
This announcement by Parliament provides a timely reminder that, despite many Registered Providers and Local Authorities currently facing record levels of disrepair claims, liability for issues not currently caught by section 11 is about to be imposed upon landlords.
If enacted, the Bill may drag landlords into potentially virgin territory, as the list of factors that are used to assess whether a property is suitable for habitation will be amended to include any prescribed hazard under s.2 of the Housing Act 2004. Conceivably, (private) environmental health expertise may be utilised in disrepair claims, potentially moving away from the traditional approach to disrepair litigation taken by chartered surveyors and solicitors.
Whilst Shelter believes that the “vast majority of private landlords who are fulfilling their duties will be unaffected” by the Bill, it remains to be seen as to whether the Bill may “open the floodgates” so to speak.
The biggest issue as we see it for social landlords (who would always strive to provide homes to meet the standard) will be arguments over improvements say to insulation, heating and ventilation, where condensation exists, vs. contributions made to condensation made by tenant’s lifestyle/operation of the home. Housing Managers are well aware that those arguments can be contentious. Asset Managers should be planning and budgeting now for improvement works to avoid future claims.
If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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