The Fitness for Human Habitation Act was introduced on 20th March 2019. (Link to Gov website)
In simple terms, it means all landlords in England (including letting agencies) are required to maintain their properties so they meet the minimum standard for human habitation at the beginning and for the duration of the tenancy. The aim of the Act is to give tenants some protection by giving them some legal recourse against landlords if they believe they fall foul of the act.
Landlords should make sure that any homes they rent out are comfortable and safe for tenants to live in.
The Act is really an extension of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which sets out the guidelines for landlords to ensure their properties are fit for humans to live in. There are no additional rules to follow but tenants now have more power to hold their landlord accountable for the home they rent and take them to court if there are issues which mean the property isn't deemed habitable. If you are from Scotland or Wales the government website will have information on equivalent legislation for your area.
Private and social landlords need to be aware of this Act as it applies to tenancy agreements granted after 20th March 2019 in England.
The government website states that:
- Tenancies which are less than seven years (and seven year tenancies that can be cancelled early by the landlord)
- Secure, introductory or assured fixed-term tenancies
- Tenancies renewed for a fixed term
The Act will apply to all periodic tenancies (including those that started before 20 March 2019) from 20 March 2020.
The government website does state some exceptions to tenancies:
Where the tenant is not an individual person so it seems exceptions apply to local authorities, national parks, housing associations, educational institutions.
The Act does not cover people who have ‘licences to occupy’, instead of tenancy agreements. This may include lodgers (such as people renting a room and live with their landlord) some people who live in temporary accommodation, and some property guardians.
What could deem a property unfit for human habitation?
The courts are ultimately responsible for deciding whether a property is unfit for human habitation. The decision would be based on the severity of the following issues and if that meant it would be unreasonable to expect a person to live there. The courts may decide to get an independent expert view on the property, but it not always necessary. For example, if a property doesn’t have any external facing windows then the property has not enough natural light and is obviously unfit.
- Building stability
- Serious damp
- Unsafe layout
- Not enough natural light
- Poor ventilation
- No hot or cold water
- Drainage or toilets issues
- Poor cooking or washing up facilities
- Or, any of the hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations
Do landlords always have to sort out property defects?
The first point to remember is that tenants have a responsibility to maintain and look after the property. There are scenarios where the landlord would not necessarily be responsible for fixing property defects and the government website outlines the following:
- the problem is caused by tenant behaviour
- the problem is caused by events like fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control (sometimes called ‘acts of God’)
- the problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
- the landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning permission, permission from freeholders etc. There must be evidence of reasonable efforts to gain permission
The second key point to remember is that Landlords are responsible for an issue in their property from the moment their tenant tells them about it. The general rule is that a landlord should try to make effort to resolve the problem as soon as they can once they are aware of it. There is an element of what is reasonable here too. Landlords should assess the situation based on what they have been made aware of.
Landlords realistically should resolve the situations that arise and avoid being taken to court by their tenant. Regular property inspections and preventative maintenance should keep situations from arising.
What can I do?
Brightchecker has a Fitness For Human Habitation Assessment Checklist as a part of the platform which can be used to check against the key criteria of the Act and ensure landlords and property managers can ensure these standards are upheld and risks of being taken to court by tenants is minimised.