Don’t get caught out by the introduction of the new fit for habitation laws
Are you prepared for March 20th? If you’re a buy-to-let landlord and expect to either welcome new tenants to your property or renew a tenancy on or after this date, you need to be. If you aren’t, you could be forced to carry out improvements to your property, or pay compensation to your tenant, or both. What am I writing about? The new Home (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.
What is the Home (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018?
This new legislation amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the Building Act 1984. The aim of the legislation is to raise standards of properties in the private rented sector. Rental properties must be fit for human habitation, and the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) will be used to ensure that buy-to-let properties meet the criteria set for this.
What factors affect fitness for human habitation?
Being fit for human habitation does not mean being defect free. However, the property must not have a defect that makes the property unfit for its tenant to live in. Therefore, the criteria are somewhat of a moving target, because they will be applied to the tenant who is living there. This means that there are likely to be differences between what is considered fit for habitation by a young, fit individual than for an older tenant.
What are the criteria used to measure fitness for habitation?
Several issues will be assessed by a judge should a case be brought against you. These include:
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Water supply
- Drainage and sanitary conveniences
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of wastewater
- Hazards under the housing health and safety rating system
If your property fails on one or more of these, the court will decide if the failure is so bad that it makes the property unfit for habitation by the tenant.
How can you be taken to court under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018?
Under the HHSRS, the local authority is not responsible for acting against the landlord (though they still can for breaches of HHSRS).
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 allows the tenant to take the landlord to court without involving the local authority. It will then be for the court to decide if the property is unfit for human habitation depending on the evidence presented.
What penalties could you receive?
If the case is found against you, you could be forced to make repairs, renovations and improvements necessary to put the property in order. You could also be sued for compensation for the entire duration of the tenancy.
What if the tenant doesn’t tell you about a defect?
You are responsible for the condition of your tenant’s home. However, the law also understands that the property may suffer a defect while the tenant is in situ and that you may not have knowledge of it. If you don’t know about the defect, you cannot put it right, and therefore you wouldn’t be responsible.
While nothing specific covers this eventuality in legislation, section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act requires the tenant to notify the landlord of repair and maintenance requirements. Once notified, the landlord should be given reasonable time to repair the defect for internal defects, though external defects should be attended to immediately.
What is meant by ‘reasonable time’ to repair?
This is another woolly area in the law. There is no set definition of ‘reasonable time’. Instead, the measure of reasonable time will be judged on a case-by-case basis. For example, if the central heating system breaks down in mid-winter, this will be deemed to be a serious repair need, while the same defect in the middle of summer will be deemed to be less serious.
What if the defect was caused by the tenant?
If the defect was caused by the tenant, the landlord cannot be held responsible for it under the law, if it was caused deliberately or because of tenant negligence. Other cases in which the landlord would not be held responsible for the defect include:
- Defects caused by fire, flood, or other catastrophic weather events
- Repair of the tenant’s items
What tenancies are affected?
Eventually, this legislation will apply to all secure, assured, assured shorthold and introductory tenancies which are less than seven years in duration. This will be phased in. The first phase comes into force on 20th March 2019 and covers:
- New tenancies that begin on or after 20th March 2019
- Tenancy renewals that are made on or after 20th March 2019, and includes statutory periodic tenancies that come into force on or after this date
If your property falls into the latter category, you should check to ensure that it is fit for human habitation.
What should you do?
Good landlords are unlikely to need to do anything – they will already be on top of maintenance and making certain that their property is in good condition. However, it is worth taking the following action:
- Make sure that the tenant understands their responsibility to report any defects to you promptly
- Repair any reported defect in a timely manner
- Consider making regular property inspections if you don’t already
Here at Ezytrac, we make sure that our landlord clients are kept informed of changes in landlord legislation. We advise on what is needed to stay ahead of the law and avoid breaching regulations. Isn’t it time you benefitted from effortless property management? Contact us to find out how on +44 0 1522 503 717.
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