The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force on 20th March 2019. What does this mean for both landlords and tenants?
On the face of it, this legislation does what it says on the tin.
Any property that is let by a landlord is required to be fit for human habitation at the start of, and throughout, a tenancy.
This Act was designed and is being enacted as an amendment to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
What does the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 mean in practical terms for landlords and tenants?
Who and What Does the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 Cover?
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 covers all tenancies that are shorter than seven years in length, and covers both the social and private rental sectors.
The requirement to ensure a property is fit for human habitation includes both the specific dwelling let to a tenant as well as all parts of any building attached to it, in which the landlord has an interest. The act therefore covers communal areas of houses in multiple occupation (HMO's), or for example if the landlord owned an entire block of flats.
Once the Act came into force on 20th March 2019, it covered both new tenancies and existing tenancies on that date, inclusive of periodic tenancies and legacy regulated tenancies.
What Does 'Fit for Human Habitation' Actually Mean?
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 amends, essentially outlines what this means by exception. The Act details what constitutes a property that would be unfit for human habitation.
A rental property will be deemed unfit for human habitation if there are any serious defects
in any of the following areas:
- Stability of the property
- Freedom from damp
- Internal arrangement
- Natural lighting
- Clean water supply to the property
- Drainage and sanitary conveniences at the property
- Facilities for preparation and cooking of food at the property
- Facilities for the disposal of waste water at the property
In addition to these points, the Act explicitly states that “the house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable in that condition”.
Who is Responsible for Ensuring Fitness for Human Habitation?
In most cases this is down to the landlord.
However, the Act does not make landlords responsible for fixing damage or conditions of disrepair that have been caused by tenants' behaviour or neglect. If the tenant was to do something that would leave the property unfit for human habitation, it would be up to the tenant to fix, or be something that could be deducted from the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Once a tenant has moved out, the responsibility would be back with the landlord to ensure the property is fit for human habitation prior to a new tenancy beginning.
What Happens When a Property is Unfit for Human Habitation?
Provided the responsibility lies with the landlord - prior to a tenancy or during a tenancy when the tenant is not responsible for the issue - they must carry out the necessary work to correct the issues and make the property fit for human habitation again.
There are some exceptions. Landlords are not obliged to:
- Rebuild or reinstate destroyed buildings
- Correct issues the tenant is responsible for causing
- Carry out any work that is the responsibility of a superior landlord, or for which
they are unable to obtain the necessary consent from a third-party
If a property is unfit for human habitation, tenants may make a claim against landlords in court. As
a result of any court hearing, landlords may be ordered to carry out works. Damages may also be awarded to the tenant.
As a Landlord, Should I Be Worried?
Most landlords will find they have nothing they need to do differently as a result of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018. If you act as a responsible landlord and maintain the condition of your property, it is unlikely you would be affected and the property would be deemed unfit for human habitation.
Only those landlords who have properties which have fallen into serious states of disrepair are likely to be affected, although issues such as those that would see a property deemed unfit for human habitation should really be dealt with as a priority anyway, irrespective of the new legislation.
If you're a private landlord with tenants who have a regulated tenancy, you may need to be aware of any instances of repairs or modernisation works being limited by sitting tenants, and of the provisions within the Act that will help you. If a tenant has prevented you from carrying out a specific project, for example, then that will be their responsibility and the onus won't be on you for not providing a property that is fit for human habitation.
As with any new legislation that is introduced, it will take time before all parties can fully understand how this will be interpreted by the courts, and what the long-term consequences, intended or unintended, may be.
As a landlord, how you approach the management of your buy-to-let portfolio shouldn't really change. You should continue to ensure your properties are well maintained, for the sake of protecting your own investment as much as to protect yourself against the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018!