New Act aims to ensure homes fit for human habitation
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20 March 2019, and aims to ensure that "residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation".
What does fitness for human habitation mean?
According to the Act, various factors will be taken into consideration, in respect of:
- freedom from damp
- internal arrangement
- natural lighting, ventilation
- water supply
- drainage and sanitary conveniences
- facilities for preparation and cooking of food
- facilities for the disposal of waste water
The Act also says, the property "shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition".
There is therefore no generic test and other factors such as the age and fitness of a tenant will determine whether a particular house is fit for that particular tenant's habitation.
A landlord will be permitted under the provisions of the Act to enter the property to assess its state and condition, but this must be at reasonable times of the day after the tenant has been given at least 24 hours' notice in writing.
How do the new rules apply?
The Act works by implying a term into any residential lease of less than 7 years (and certain other longer leases) that the property is fit for human habitation and will remain so for the duration of the lease term. The rules will not impose additional obligations upon a landlord that might otherwise be the responsibility of the tenant, nor do they impose an obligation on landlords to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling where it is destroyed by fire, storm, flood or other inevitable accident, or to carry out works where these would be in breach of a law or require the consent of any third party where consent cannot be obtained.
The Act is not retrospective, it will not apply to fixed term tenancies that began or were agreed to begin before 20 March 2019.
What are the sanctions for failing to provide the required standard of housing?
The new rules give tenants the right to bring court action for breach of contract on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation. Courts could order landlords to perform repairs and landlords may also be sued for damages. Regular inspections of properties are therefore vital to ensure that any issues are addressed quickly.
Laura Mather, commercial property solicitor at Samuels in North Devon says: "Although these provisions have only just come into force, suggestions that existing repairs case law will also apply to Fitness for Human Habitation claims means that the best advice is to seek specialist legal advice at the earliest opportunity from a solicitor with knowledge of existing case law and the ability to interpret it in light of the new legislation."
If you are a landlord concerned about a claim by a tenant, or if you are a tenant and think you might be in a position to make a claim under the new legislation, contact us today to see how we can help.