Litigation Executive at Coodes Solicitors, Hayley Gaffney, outlines what landlords need to know about the new Fitness for Human Habitation Act.
After being approved at the end of last year, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act is set to come into force in England only on 20 March 2019. It will apply to all new or renewed secure, assured (including assured shorthold) and sublet tenancies of under seven years commencing on or after that date, including a renewal of an existing lease. For periodic tenancies beginning before 20 March, it will apply but there will be a 12 month grace period for compliance.
With so little time until the new legislation comes into effect, it is important for landlords to ensure they understand the implications.
The new legislation amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and requires property owners to ensure that their accommodation is fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy. They must also maintain this standard throughout the time the tenant resides in the property.
Put simply, to be classed as fit for human habitation, your property must be safe to live in. The legislation states you must ensure there is no serious defect that the courts would deem makes the property unfit for someone to live in.
Damp and mould growth, natural lighting and drainage, as well as sanitary conveniences and facilities for preparing and cooking food are among the issues that are covered by the Act. The property will be deemed unfit if one or more of the conditions makes it unsuitable for someone to live in.
This is judged by the court, not only on the basis of the condition of the property, but also for its suitability for the tenant. For instance, a young and healthy tenant would have a higher threshold of suitability than someone with young children, a health condition or an elderly tenant.
The new legislation allows tenants to bring court action direct to the judge, rather than going through the council. The judge will decide whether the property is unfit based on the evidence provided.
Under the new Act, tenants can sue for damages for the entire length of the contract or tenancy and the landlord can be forced to perform repairs.
There are certain defects that a landlord is not responsible for and it is expected that the landlord should receive reasonable notice to remedy any issues before court action commences. We advise landlords to speak to a solicitor if you are unsure of your obligations and your rights to reasonable notice and time to undertake works and whether the works are actually your responsibility.
The government has also recently announced tougher requirements on landlords to carry out mandatory electrical inspections. The new legislation will require all specified private rented property owners to carry out electrical checks once every five years. This is currently only required for HMOs but will extend to all private rental properties.
Landlords must ensure that inspectors are qualified and have the necessary competence to undertake an inspection. Minimum level guidelines will be published by the government and penalties for non-compliance has yet to be decided.