Senior Director, National Head of Lettings
The new Fitness for Human Habitation Act requires that any property let by a landlord is fit for human habitation. We look at what this means for landlords and tenants.
The Fitness for Human Habitation Act will come into force on 20 March 2019. It’s designed to improve tenants’ rights and enable them to take legal action if their home isn’t fit to live in.
While the Housing Act 2004 made provision for councils to take action against landlords whose properties were considered to pose a significant health and safety hazard to occupants, the new legislation broadens the list of what is considered to be a habitable property and gives tenants the power to take more direct action.
For most landlords, the Fitness for Human Habitation Act will be of no great concern. However, it’s worth both landlords and tenants being aware of the provisions of the Act and their rights and responsibilities under this new legislation.
What properties does the Fitness for Human Habitation Act apply to?
The Act will apply to new tenancies or renewals of existing tenancies of less than seven years entered into after 20 March 2019. It will also apply to fixed-term tenancies that become periodic after this date.
It covers properties rented from both private and social landlords, plus common areas such as stairwells and communal rooms in blocks of flats.
The Act extends to England and Wales, although the Welsh government carried out their own consultation on fitness for human habitation at the end of 2017.
Your rights as a tenant under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act
Under the new legislation, residential rented accommodation must be provided and maintained in a fit state for human habitation.
But what does this mean in practice?
The list of possible issues that could deem the property unfit (if serious enough) includes but is not limited to:
- damp and mould
- domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- inadequate provision for safe preparation of food
- excess cold or heat
- poor natural lighting and ventilation
- issues with water supply, drainage and sanitary conveniences.
If you’re a tenant and you believe that your property is not in a fit state for human habitation, the Fitness for Human Habitation Act gives you the right to take a landlord to court.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) will be used to determine if your home is unfit. If the landlord is found guilty, this would be considered a breach of contract.
There’s an implicit expectation that you will contact your landlord to notify them of the issue and give them a reasonable time to make repairs before taking legal action.
What do landlords need to do?
For landlords whose properties are in a good state of repair, there won’t be any additional actions required as part of the new legislation. The Act is designed to crack down on rogue landlords who let out substandard properties.
If you’re a landlord, you can’t be held responsible for the property being in an unfit state if:
- the unfitness has been caused by the tenants
- the property has been damaged by an insured risk, for example, fire or flood
- the works would put you in breach of legislation such as planning permission
- you need permission from a superior landlord and are unable to obtain this.
However, the new legislation adds extra weight to the importance of carrying out regular visits to inspect your properties. Keeping a record of visits prior to the start of new tenancies and periodically during tenancies is good practice and will ensure that you can keep on top of any repair work that’s needed. It will also help protect you if any of your tenants do take legal action.
If you’re unable to inspect a property because of access issues, make sure you keep copies of all correspondence with your tenant in case of future complaints.