What does the Homes (Fitness) Act mean for landlords and tenants?
‘Fitness’ just means the standard of the property in the context of it being a person’s primary home.
With this in mind, the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) Act (2018) does three main things:
- Revives old protections for tenants regarding fitness of property during the tenancy
- Adds new protections
- Gives tenants new means to compel landlords to perform work (court action)
What are the old protections and why are they coming back?
The Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) describes:
- A condition that the house is fit for human habitation at the commencement of the tenancy
- An undertaking that the house will be kept by the landlord fit for human habitation during the tenancy
So what does ‘fit for human habitation mean’ here? The Act demands ‘regard be had’ to:
- 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
But these protections were only given to tenancies whose rent was less than £52 (or £80 in London). This of course means that today, these demands apply to no new tenancies priced at market rates.
The new Act applies the listed considerations to tenancies in England, without the old price exemptions.
This means that, after the Act is fully implemented, it will apply to all new tenancies with terms shorter than 7 years.
What are the new protections?
In addition to the above, the new Act also adds the hazards listed in the Housing Act (2004) as factors to be considered when assessing whether a property is fit for human habitation.
There are 29 of these, including mould, safety against intruders and noise.
- damp and mould growth
- excess cold
- excess heat
There are many more but the above on the general ones, we as letting agents whom only rent out good accomodation – are likely to see.
Who decides what is ‘unfit’? Is the council still involved? Can my tenant take me to court?
Importantly tenants have now been given extra powers, and are able to take the landlord to court. They no longer need to rely on the local council to come out inspect the property. With the new act, tenants do not need to rely on the local authorities, they can now enlist a solicitor or a surveyor to help prove their case; or they can gather evidence together themselves and use this to prove the landlord has broken the covenant implied by this new act.
The court will then make a ruling which the landlord and tenant will have to abide by.
There are some familiar looking exceptions to the work landlords can be expected to perform in order to address fitness of dwelling:
- if the problem has been caused by the tenants failing to act in a ‘tenant-like manner’, e.g. deliberate damage to the property.
- ‘Inevitable events’, e.g. damage caused by fire, storm, flood, etc.
- Repairs of items that the tenant can remove, e.g. their own furniture in an unfurnished property.
- Works which would breach the landlord’s other obligations, e.g. planning permission.
- Work that requires third-party consent, e.g. from the freeholder.