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The Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation): Understanding the Landlord Obligations

Sophia Harris

September 28, 2023

The Homes Act 2018

The Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation) became effective on 20 March 2019 with the primary objective of ensuring that all rental accommodations meet the criteria for human habitation. It seeks to empower tenants by bolstering their recourse against minority landlords failing to fulfil their legal obligations in maintaining safe properties.

It’s important to note that the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 does not introduce new obligations for landlords; instead, it reinforces the requirement for landlords to fulfil their existing responsibilities related to property standards and safety.

Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, amendments are made to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, mandating all landlords to ensure that their properties, including communal areas within the building, are fit for human habitation at the commencement of the tenancy and throughout its duration. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 establishes an implied agreement between the tenant and landlord at the start of the tenancy, stipulating that the property will be fit for human habitation.

Overview of the Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation)

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act applies to both the social and private rented sectors, emphasising that landlords must ensure their properties, including communal areas, are fit for human habitation from the commencement of the tenancy throughout its duration.

To comply with this requirement, landlords must ensure their properties are free from hazards so severe that they render the dwelling unsuitable for habitation. It is important to note that most landlords already take this responsibility seriously and maintain their properties accordingly.

In cases where a landlord fails to meet these standards, the tenant possesses the right to take legal action against them for breach of contract because the property is unfit for human habitation. The remedies available to the tenant include a court-ordered mandate for the landlord to address and rectify the hazard and potential compensation for the tenant due to their need to reside in a property that did not meet the fitness standard.

Who Does It Apply To?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 applies to the following categories:

  1. Tenancies lasting less than seven years are granted on or after 20 March 2019. It’s important to note that the landlord can terminate tenancies longer than seven years before the expiry of 7 years and will be treated as if the tenancy was for less than seven years.
  2. New secure, assured, and introductory tenancies granted on or after 20 March 2019.
  3. Tenancies renewed for a fixed term on or after 20 March 2019.
  4. Starting from 20 March 2020, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 will apply to all periodic tenancies. This includes all tenancies that commenced before 20 March 2019, giving landlords a 12-month window from the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018’s commencement date before the requirement becomes mandatory.

 

Also Read: Housing disrepair claims process – complete guide

What Exceptions Exist?

There are instances where landlords are not obligated to remedy unfitness:

  1. When the problem is a result of tenant behaviour.
  2. When the problem is caused by uncontrollable events such as fires, storms, or floods, often referred to as ‘acts of God.’
  3. When the problem arises from the tenant’s possessions.
  4. When the landlord cannot obtain consent, such as planning permission or approval from freeholders. In such cases, evidence must demonstrate reasonable efforts to acquire permission.
  5. When the tenant is not an individual, including entities like local authorities, national parks, housing associations, and educational institutions.

Additionally, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 does not cover individuals with ‘licences to occupy’ instead of tenancy agreements. This category may include lodgers (individuals living with their landlord), some individuals residing in temporary accommodations, and certain, but not all, property guardians.

Can Tenants Start Using it?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into effect on 20 March 2019, and it introduced specific timelines for landlords and tenants:

  1. Existing Tenancies: Landlords with properties leased under existing tenancies, as of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018’s commencement date, were given a grace period of 12 months to ensure compliance with its requirements.
  2. New Tenancies: For any new tenancies commencing on or after 20 March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 is applicable immediately, and tenants can invoke its provisions without delay.

Complying with the Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation)

If a landlord fails to comply with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, tenants may take legal action for breach of contract. The court, in such cases, can:

  • Compensation: Make the landlord compensate the tenant for living in an unfit property.
  • Repairs: Order the landlord to do the necessary repairs to improve the property’s condition.

Tenants seeking redress through the courts do not prevent local authorities from using their enforcement powers. Local authorities can address poor and illegal landlord practices, such as when landlords neglect necessary repairs. Social housing landlords may also face scrutiny from the Regulator of Social Housing and the Housing Ombudsman.

Criteria for 'Fitness for Human Habitation'

The courts determine if a property is fit for human habitation based on criteria outlined in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. These criteria include:

  • The building’s condition and maintenance.
  • Stability of the building.
  • Serious damp issues.
  • Unsafe layout.
  • Sufficient natural light and ventilation.
  • Adequate hot and cold water supply.
  • Problems with drainage and lavatories.
  • Adequate facilities for preparing food and washing up.
  • The 29 hazards are specified in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005.

The court decides fitness for habitation; an official Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) assessment is not mandatory. However, landlords may choose to conduct an assessment for their reference. Social housing landlords may consider the Decent Homes Standard.

Factors for Determining Unfitness

Whether a residential property is fit for human habitation is based on factual assessments. Several key factors are considered in this determination, including:

  • Building Condition: The condition of the building itself is assessed, focusing on whether it has been neglected and is in poor condition.
  • Stability: The stability of the building is evaluated to determine if structural issues may pose a risk.
  • Dampness: The presence of persistent and damp severe problems is considered.
  • Layout Safety: The layout of the property is examined for safety concerns.
  • Natural Light and Ventilation: The property is assessed to ensure sufficient natural light and ventilation.
  • Water Supply: The reliability and adequacy of both hot and cold water supplies are evaluated.
  • Sanitary Facilities: The functionality of lavatories and drains is reviewed to ensure they are working correctly.
  • Kitchen Facilities: The adequacy of kitchen facilities for preparing and cooking food and washing up is assessed.

If a court determines that any of these factors are unmet and that the property is unfit for human habitation, the landlord may be ordered to make necessary repairs, pay compensation to the tenants, and cover their legal costs.

Read: No win No fee housing disrepair claims

Housing Health and Safety Regulations 2005

These regulations complement the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 by providing a more technical and detailed framework for assessing housing conditions. They define “hazard” as any risk of harm to the health or safety of an occupant arising from deficiencies in the dwelling or its surroundings. Hazards are categorised based on the degree of harm reasonably foreseeable, ranging from extreme to moderate.

  • Assessment Costs: Expert assessments are often not required to determine unfitness. For instance, if a lavatory is not functioning correctly, a court can easily find the property unsuitable for human habitation. However, expert assessments and evidence may be necessary in complex cases, such as claims of building instability or harmful paint.
  • Landlord Responsibility: Landlords are legally obligated to maintain their properties in a condition that ensures they are fit for human habitation, and they may be held accountable for any deficiencies that render the property unfit.

Both landlords and tenants must understand these standards to ensure safe and suitable living conditions in rented accommodations.

Timeframe for Resolving Issues

Once a landlord is made aware of a hazard by the tenant, they become responsible. Common risks in shared accommodations or flats make landlords immediately liable. Depending on the circumstances, the landlord should address the hazard within a reasonable time. 

Failure to address the hazard promptly allows the tenant to take legal action, with the court determining the reasonableness of the landlord’s actions. Landlords are advised to rectify their responsibilities promptly. If a tenant reports an issue in a common area of a building, it is recommended to inform the freeholder promptly.

Access to the Property

For non-emergency repairs to make a property fit for habitation, landlords should provide at least 24 hours written notice to tenants. The visit should occur at “reasonable” hours, avoiding late nights and early mornings. However, the timing may depend on unique tenant factors, such as caregiving responsibilities.

In emergencies, landlords may be entitled to enter the property with shorter notice. If tenants deny access, landlords should seek legal advice and maintain records of their attempts to contact the tenant.

Defences Available to Landlords Under the Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation)

As a landlord, there are several potential defences that you can raise depending on the circumstances and the nature of the hazard alleged by your tenants under the Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation). These defences may include:

  1. No Hazard Existence: You can argue that the defect or issue complained of does not constitute a hazard, and the property is, in fact, fit for human habitation.
  2. Tenant Damage: If the tenant has caused damage to the property, you can assert that they are in breach of their covenant to behave in a tenant-like manner.
  3. Inevitable Accident: You may defend a claim by asserting that the property’s condition resulted from fire, storms, floods, or other unavoidable accidents beyond your control.
  4. Tenant’s Entitlement to Remove: If the tenant has the right to remove or alter an item in the dwelling, you can argue that the issue raised is related to their actions.
  5. Planning or Consent Issues: You can claim that the requested works or repairs would breach planning permission, listed building consent, or conservation area requirements, making them legally unfeasible.
  6. Third-Party Consent: If the necessary works or repairs require consent from a third party, such as a superior landlord or freeholder, and this consent has not been granted despite your reasonable efforts, you can raise this as a defence.

Protecting Yourself as a Landlord

If you are a responsible landlord who regularly maintains and inspects your property, it’s unlikely that you will face claims under this legislation. To protect yourself from potential litigation, consider these actions:

  • Prompt Repairs: Investigate and, if necessary, complete repairs promptly when defects are reported.
  • Detailed Inventory: Create a comprehensive property inventory before a new tenant moves in.
  • Regular Inspections: Conduct regular inspections of the property to identify and address issues proactively.
  • Maintenance Records: Maintain detailed records of property maintenance activities.
  • Handling Litigation: If it appears that litigation is imminent, gather all relevant evidence, including:
    • Correspondence with the tenant
    • Detailed notes of conversations
    • Inspection dates and findings
    • Correspondence with third parties whose consent may be needed
    • Independent expert reports

Penalties for Non-Compliance

If a court determines that a property is unfit for human habitation, it may order one or both of the following:

  • Compulsory Improvement: The landlord may be required to make necessary improvements to the property’s condition to ensure it is fit for habitation.
  • Tenant Compensation: There are no specified limits on the amount of compensation that can be awarded, which is at the discretion of the judge, who considers the evidence. Factors considered include:
    • The harm inflicted on the tenant.
    • The duration of the issue.
    • The severity of unfitness in the dwelling.
  • The landlord may also be ordered to pay the tenant’s legal costs and compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenity.

Local Authorities and 'Retaliatory Eviction'

Local authorities retain enforcement powers if a private tenant seeks redress under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, except when the local authority is also the landlord.

Landlords cannot serve a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice to tenants with assured shorthold tenancies unless they have fulfilled certain legal responsibilities. Social housing landlords cannot use a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice as it applies only to assured shorthold tenancies.

Existing protections against retaliatory eviction, provided under the Deregulation Act 2015, remain available to tenants if local authorities take specific actions under the Housing Act 2004. Therefore, local authorities may take enforcement action under the Housing Act 2004 even if tenants seek redress under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. This safeguards tenants against unfair eviction when they complain about their home’s condition.

Winning the Case

If you win the case in court, your tenant might be required to pay some costs. For more information, seek legal advice. Private sector landlords seeking information on their general obligations can refer to the How to Let guide.

Key Takeaways

The Homes Act 2018 (Fitness for Human Habitation), effective from 20 March 2019, stands as a crucial piece of legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights of tenants and elevating property standards in the rental market. 

It underscores the enduring responsibility of landlords to provide and maintain rental accommodations that meet the fundamental criteria for human habitation. Importantly, this act does not introduce new obligations for landlords but reinforces existing legal responsibilities regarding property standards and safety.

If you’re a landlord or tenant dealing with property-related issues, don’t hesitate to reach out to MyDisrepairClaims for expert guidance and legal support. Visit our website now to explore your options and protect your rights under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. Your safe and habitable property matters – let us help you make it right.

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