The Human Habitation Act is a new Act that is in place. In respect of most tenancies but after the 20th March 2020, it now applies to all periodic tenancies as well.
The Act has wide ranging consequences for landlords. They need to understand and be aware of what their responsibilities are. The most controversial part of the Law allows tenants to take legal action in Court. This will be for breach of contract if the property is in a poor condition.
Properties will be measured by:
State of repair
Freedom from damp
Ventilation Water supply
Drainage Sanitary conveniences
Facilities for storing, preparing and cooking food
The disposal of water waste
The extension that takes place on the 20th March 2020 incorporates all properties. It will now not be acceptable for landlords not to carry out works.
We now give guidance and advice to landlords of domestic rented properties. About the minimum standards that are required to let property under the terms of this Act. It’s designed to ensure properties are fit for habitation against landlords who don’t fulfil their legal obligations.
There are no legislation’s under the terms of this Act but they reinforce existing ones. The legislation requires landlords to ensure they’re meeting their responsibility of standards & safety.
Under the current Act of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985. All landlords must ensure that their properties including any common parts are fit for human habitation. Not only at the beginning of the tenancies but throughout. The Act states there is an implied agreement between tenant & landlord that the property will be fit for human habitation.
The whole idea of the Act is to support the majority of good landlords who provide well maintained homes. Yet where landlords do not do so penalties can be imposed. Landlords who do not maintain safe properties, prevent the operation of a competitive rental market. The Act provides for more means for tenants to seek redress by giving them the power to hold their landlord to account.
The Government expects standards to improve with the provision of this Act. Tenants will be empowered to take action against their landlord. The Government believe this creates a level playing field for the majority of landlords who are maintaining their houses.
What is the overview of the Act?
The Act applies to all private rental sectors as well as social housing. It makes it clear that landlords must ensure their properties are fit for Human habitation. To achieve this landlords will need to make sure that their property is free from hazards. Which are so serious that the dwelling is not suitable for occupation in that condition. Most landlords take their responsibility seriously and will do this but some do not. Where a landlord fails to do so the tenant has the right to take action at the Courts for breach of contract. This would be on the grounds that the property is unfit for Human Habitation. The remedies available are an order by the court requiring the landlord to take action to reduce or remove the hazard and/or damages. They may also suggest compensation for having to live in a property that is not fit for human habitation.
Who can apply to the courts for such an order? Who will it benefit?
The Act takes into account tenancies shorter than seven years that are granted on or after the 20th March 2019. New secure and assured shortholds and introductory tenancies after the 20th March 2019.
Tenancies renewed for a fixed term on or after the 20th March 2019
From the 20th March 2020 the Act applies to all tenancies that started before the 20th March 2019. This comes into force with every property.
Are there any exceptions?
The landlord is not required to remedy unfit homes when the following occurs:
(a) The problem is caused by the tenant’s behaviour
(b) The problem is caused by events like fire, storm and floods which are completely beyond the landlords control sometimes called acts of god.
(c) The problem is caused by the tenants own possessions.
(d) The landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning or permission from the freeholder. You have to provide evidence of all reasonable efforts to gain possession.
(e) The tenant is not an individual i.e. local authority, national park, housing association or educational institution.
(f) The Act does not cover people who have licence to occupy instead of tenancy agreements. This may include lodgers i.e. people who live with their landlord and some people who live in temporary accommodation.
When can tenants start to use the Act?
The Act is already in force and started from the 20th March 2019. It now encompasses all tenancies from the 20th March 2020.
What is the situation with complying with the Act?
If a landlord fails to follow the Act tenants have the right to take court action for breach of contract. The court decides if the landlord has not provided the tenant with a home that is fit for human habitation. The court can:
- Make the landlord pay compensation to their tenant
- Make the landlord do all the necessary works to improve the property. If the tenant seeks redress through the courts this does not stop the local authority from using its enforcement powers. Local authorities have the power to tackle illegal practices when landlords aren’t carrying out works.
What is the criteria of “the Fitness for Human Habitation?”
The courts will decide whether a property is fit for human habitation by considering matters that are set out within the Act. They are:
- The building is neglected and is in a bad condition
- The building is unstable
- There is a serious problem with damp
- It has an unsafe layout
- If there is not enough natural light
- There is not enough ventilation
- Also if there is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- Any problems with the drainage or the lavatory
- It is difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
There are also 29 hazards as set out in the Housing Health and Safety regulations 2005. It is the Courts that will decide whether the dwelling is fit for Human Habitation. There is a housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS). Landlords can carry out an assessment if they wish to establish whether a serious health and safety hazard is present. The court may also make decisions on unfit lists without expert evidence. It is not always required.
How long do landlords have to fix a problem?
The landlord is responsible from when he or she is made aware of the hazard by the tenant. Any hazard located in common parts of flats or houses in multiple occupation would make the landlord immediately liable. The landlord will have a reasonable amount of time to deal with the hazard which will depend on the circumstances. Once the landlord is actively attempting to remedy the hazard, the tenant will not be able to take their landlord to court. It is for the Court to decide whether the landlord dealt with the hazard within a reasonable time. It is the landlord’s responsibility to ensure that they rectify any damages as soon as possible. If the tenant tells them about a problem that is in a common part then you are to bring it to the freeholder’s attention as soon as possible.
What happens if my tenant does not let me in?
In the case of repairing a property to make it fit for Human Habitation the landlord should give at least 24 hours written notice to the tenants. The visit should take place within reasonable hours, for most people means this means not too late or too early in the morning. In an emergency the landlord may be entitled to enter the property on a shorter notice. It will be down to the terms of the tenancy. If the tenant does not give access the landlord should seek legal advice. The courts can grant those rights of entry.
Penalties – what happens if I don’t comply with the Act?
The courts have the ability to find that the property is not fit for human habitation. They then may need the following:
a) Compulsory improvement to the condition of the property
b) Compensation to the tenant
c) Unfortunately there are no specified limits on the level of compensation that can be awarded and this is at the discretion of the judge
d) Factors taken into account will be the perceived harm that has been affected on the tenants. The longevity of the issue and the severity of the unfitness. You may also be ordered to pay the tenants legal costs
e) It may be that the landlord will be required not only to pay compensation but to return all the rent that they have received for the property.
What are the local authority’s powers and what happens on retaliatory evictions?
The local authority have the ability to use their enforcement powers if a tenant in private rental sector seeks redress. The landlord cannot serve an eviction notice on an AST unless they have complied with their legal obligations. Click here to refer to our previous article regarding notices. There are protections against retaliatory eviction provided under the De-Regulation Act 2015. Which will still be available to tenants if local authorities have taken certain actions under the Housing Act 2004. There may be circumstances where local authorities deem it necessary to take enforcement under the Housing Act 2004. This will protect the tenants against unfair eviction that they have raised under a legitimate complaint. In real terms it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure that their property is maintained. It is thus important that landlords are aware of their obligations in this regard.
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