As part of the Government’s objective to enhance the standards and conditions of rented homes, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (Act) was given Royal Assent on 20 December 2018 and will take effect on 20 March 2019.
The purpose of the Act is to improve standards in the private and social rented sectors by putting an obligation on landlords to keep their property in good condition and giving tenants the right to take legal action where their landlord fails to do so.
The Act amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (LTA 1985) and in doing so aims to close a loophole in the current legislation which gives landlords less accountability to tenants.
Under the LTA 1985, a landlord is generally only required to keep a property “in repair”. However, if that property is in disrepair but has never been in a better condition, the landlord is not under an obligation to carry out repairs to improve its condition. As such, properties that are considered to be “in repair” under the LTA 1985 may not necessarily be considered fit for human habitation. In such cases, a tenant may not be able to take any direct action against the landlord and may, instead, be entirely reliant on a local authority to do so.
Effects of the Act
The Act amends the LTA 1985 and implies a covenant in all leases to which the Act applies (generally, those with a term of less than 7 years) requiring both social and privately rented properties to meet certain standards. Landlords will be obliged to ensure that homes are “fit for human habitation” both at the commencement and throughout the tenancy.
Although “fit for human habitation” has not been defined in the Act, guidance as to whether a property is fit or unfit for habitation is found in s10 of the LTA 1985 which provides that regard is to be given to a range of specified factors including ventilation, drainage, water supply and freedom from damp. The Act also amends s10 to include “prescribed hazards” in the list of specified factors and in doing so broadens the range of potential factors that could determine whether a property is unfit to cover any matter or circumstance amounting to a hazard prescribed in regulations made under s2 of the Housing Act 2004, including those set out in schedule 1 of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005 and future hazards that are not currently defined.
Under the LTA 1985, a property will be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of the specified factors or hazards that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.
The changes brought in by the Act will not apply to leases or tenancies entered into before 20 March 2019 or pursuant to agreements for lease entered into before that date, even if actual occupation is due to commence after that date. However, it will apply to fixed term tenancies that were granted before 20 March 2019 and become a periodic tenancy on or after that date.
Breach of Obligation
If the required standards are not met by the landlord, the tenant will have the right to take legal action for breach of contract and claim damages. The Court can also order specific performance of the landlord’s statutory obligation, although what the landlord may be ordered to do will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
However, a landlord will not be liable under the Act if the property is rendered unfit for habitation by the tenant.
Tenants are advised to comply with their own repairing responsibilities under their leases/tenancies and to maintain a record of any complaints made, as evidence will be key in bringing successful claims under the Act. Similarly, landlords are advised to ensure they inspect their properties to ensure they are up to the standard required by the LTA 1985 (as amended by the Act) before 20 March 2019 and to keep their property in a compliant condition. Landlords are also advised to respond to tenants’ complaints in a timely manner and to maintain a record of all repairs and maintenance work carried out.
For further information please contact Kenny Friday