The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have published guidance for tenants, landlords and local authorities on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 - or as they call it, 'the Homes Act'. The Homes Act comes into force from 20 March 2019. There are separate guidance documents for tenants and landlords.

The Homes Act requires landlords to ensure that they are meeting their existing responsibilities with regards to property standards and safety. All landlords must ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation. The Act provides an additional means for tenants to seek redress by giving them the power to hold their landlord to account.

The government expects standards to improve as tenants will be empowered to take action against their landlord where they fail to adequately maintain their property. This will level the playing field for the vast majority of good landlords who are already maintaining homes fit for human habitation, by ensuring that they are not undercut by landlords who knowingly flout their responsibilities.

Where a landlord fails to make sure that their property is free of hazards which are so serious that the dwelling is not reasonably suitable for occupation, the tenant has the right to take action in the courts for breach of contract on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation.

Implementation

Once the Act comes into force on 20 March 2019, landlords with properties let on existing tenancies have 12 months to comply. For any new tenancies that start or renew on or after 20 March 2019, the Act will apply immediately.

Exceptions

The landlord will not be required to remedy unfitness when:

  • The problem is caused by tenant behaviour
  • The problem is caused by events like fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control
  • The problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
  • The landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning permission, permission from freeholders etc. There must be evidence of reasonable efforts to gain permission
Complying with the Act

If a landlord fails to comply with the Act, tenants may have the right to take court action for breach of contract. The remedies available to the tenant are an order by the court requiring the landlord to take action to reduce or remove the hazard, and/or damages to compensate them for having to live in a property which was not fit for human habitation

If the tenant seeks redress through the courts, this does not stop their local authority from using its enforcement powers. Local authorities have a range of powers which allow them to tackle poor and illegal practices by landlords and letting agents.

The courts will decide whether a property is fit for human habitation by considering whether:
  • The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition or is unstable
  • There’s a serious problem with damp
  • The problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
  • It has an unsafe layout
  • There’s not enough natural light, or ventilation
  • There is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water, drainage or lavatories
  • It’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
  • Or any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005

Here is a link to the landlord guidance: click here to get your copy

Lesley Attu Blog

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.

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