There will be further protections afforded to residential tenants from 20 March 2019. Applying to all new tenancies (including Assured Shorthold Tenancies [ASTs]), the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 will obligate landlords to ensure that the dwelling is “fit for human habitation” at the commencement of the tenancy and throughout.
It will apply to all tenancies that began as a fixed term before 20 March 2019, and become a periodic tenancy after the commencement date; it will then apply to nearly all tenancies from 20 March 2020.
Whilst this might sound like a given, the interesting part is that the obligation extends to all parts of the building that the landlord has an interest in. This therefore includes the common or retained parts (e.g. stairwells, bin store, roof, entrance hall).
So what is fitness for human habitation?
Determining whether a house is unfit or not is found in section 10 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (as now amended)which has also been amended by the Act which adds “in relation to a dwelling in England, any prescribed hazard”. This umbrella term means any matter or circumstance amounting to a hazard for the time being prescribed in regulations made under section 2 of the Housing Act 2004. In determining whether or not a dwelling is unfit for human habitation, regard shall be had to its condition in respect of the following matters:
- Freedom from damp
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Water supply
- Drainage and sanitary conveniences
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water
- In relation to a dwelling in England, any prescribed hazard
The dwelling 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.
What should a landlord do if the tenant alleges the dwelling is unfit? Inspect the property and instruct a surveyor. One notified, the landlord will have reasonable period of time to put right the defects. If the landlord fails to carry out remedial works within a reasonable time of notification, they could be liable for damages and/or an injunction requiring them to act.
If the surveyor decides that the fault lies with the tenant (i.e. because of lifestyle), then the landlord will not be responsible.
Decent Homes Standard
According to the English Housing Survey 2017, 25% of the 4.5million dwellings in the private rented sector and 13% of the 4 million dwellings in the social rented sector failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard set by the Government, and in recent months there has been considerable speculation that measure will be reviewed in light of the Grenfell disaster to improve health and safety standards.
Even without the shadow of Grenfell, the numbers speak for themselves and the Act is designed to educate, encourage and ultimately enforce landlords to deliver a product that is fit for purpose. It also makes it easier for both social and private tenants to take positive action if conditions aren’t good enough without having to rely on Local Authority Environmental Health Teams to investigate. Landlords large or small, private or public cannot afford to ignore the changing legal landscape.