On 20 March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, came into effect. While the Act contains no new obligations for landlords, it is designed to ensure that landlords are meeting existing responsibilities with regard to property standards, and gives tenants additional means for seeking redress against landlords who fail to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation.
Properties will be judged fit for human habitation based on factors such as internal layout, natural light, ventilation, and facilities for the preparation and cooking of food; landlords are also responsible for monitoring their properties for 29 hazards including damp, mould, excess cold, asbestos, excess heat and radiation.
The Act covers all tenancies entered into on or after 20 March 2019 for a term of less than seven years; tenancies renewed for a fixed term on or after 20 March; and new secure, assured and introductory tenancies agreed on or after the same date. From 20 March 2020, the Act will apply to all tenancies that started before 20 March 2019 as well.
A key point of the Act centres on the landlord’s obligations once the tenancy is under way. The legislation states that there is an implied agreement between the landlord and the tenant that the property will be fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy – and will remain so throughout.
The government hopes to see rental property standards improve as a result of the Act empowering tenants to take action against landlords who fail to adequately maintain their properties.
“The new provisions open the door for tenants to seek redress through the courts directly against their landlords,” says solicitor Tom Baylis of JMW. “Previously, tenants would be reliant upon their local authority to take action against the defaulting landlord. Under the new provisions, tenants can now commence court proceedings against their landlord directly.”
A court can require a landlord who has been found not to have provided their tenant with a home fit for human habitation to undertake necessary work to improve the property and also to compensate the tenant.
“It allows tenants to hold landlords accountable for potentially unsafe properties that were not caught by previous legislation,” notes Emily Pinder, senior conveyancer at Hedges Law.
This is intended to level the playing field for the vast majority of good landlords by ensuring they are not undercut by those who knowingly flout the rules.
The Homes Act: helpful tips for landlords
- Checklists and inventories can be simple but effective ways of ensuring compliance. “Before making a property available to rent, landlords would be wise to walk through each room with a checklist in hand, thoroughly reviewing and making a note of any potential breaches of the Act,” says Simon Gerrard, managing director of Martyn Gerrard estate agents. Daniel Otton from Buttercross Estates suggests evidencing everything at the start of the tenancy, too. “It might be sensible to ensure you have a thorough photo inventory to document how the property was given to the tenants with all the correct certificates in place,” he says.
- All complaints from tenants should be taken seriously. “Deal with any remedial works in a prompt and timely manner to minimise the risk of the tenant pursuing a claim for breach of contract,” says Rebecca Nichols, solicitor at Primas Law.
- It can help to ensure that tenants are well informed. “You can be proactive and provide guidance on issues such as how to deal with mould in order to educate tenants,” says Otton.
- Mid-term inventories can be a useful tool. “After a tenant moves in, landlords often forget to schedule and conduct mid-term inventories, which leaves them vulnerable to breaching the Act in the long run,” says Gerrard. “Your inventory allows you to compare the property’s condition throughout the tenancy and clearly map any deterioration.”
- The house should be thoroughly checked between tenancies. “As the Act provides for the property to be in a habitable condition at the outset of the tenancy agreement, landlords should undertake a thorough inspection of the property before re-letting,” says Tom Baylis.
- It is worth making sure any agents acting on your behalf are aware of the changes to the Act and understand their implications.
- “While a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment is not necessary, this may be worth considering for any properties the landlord is unsure of to establish whether a serious health and safety hazard is present,” says Pinder.
- Landlord should check that any certificates are up to date. “Complete a gas safety check and electrical safety check; do regular inspections ensuring any dangerous items are repaired, and ensure that no property is let out with an EPC [Energy Performance Certificate] of less than grade E,” says Mark Homer, co-founder of Progressive Property.
- “Within reason, landlords may need to use legal powers to gain access to properties where tenants are not providing access to contractors,” suggests Homer.
- There are also things you don’t need to do: “There is no requirement for the landlord to carry out works or repairs which are due to the tenant’s negligence or intentional damage to the property; nor to rebuild or reinstate the property in the event of damage by fire, storm or other ‘inevitable’ [ie unavoidable] accident; nor to carry out works that are outside the scope, ie would not be authorised by a superior landlord or freeholder,” says Pinder.