What does the Fitness Test do?
With effect from March 2019, the Fitness Test revives a clause which already exists in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, requiring all rented homes to be ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy and to remain so throughout. The clause is defunct due to the application of antiquated rent levels (£80/year in London, £52/year elsewhere). In determining whether a house is ‘unfit’, the Fitness Test incorporates the hazards enshrined in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and adds them to the 9 original fitness categories.
The updated ‘fitness standard’ includes issues not currently covered by a landlord’s legal repair responsibilities, such as damp caused by design defects (lack of ventilation) rather than disrepair and infestation, such as fleas. The Fitness Test gives tenants a way to take effective action themselves if they rent a property in poor condition and the landlord fails to do the necessary maintenance. Currently tenants have no way to enforce property standards themselves. The Fitness Test gives tenants the right to take their landlord to court where the property is not fit – they will be able to apply directly to the Court for an injunction to compel a landlord to carry out works, or for damages (compensation) for the landlord’s failure to keep the property in good repair. Some tenants will be able to apply directly to the court using their own evidence, such as photos of mould, or just emails confirming that no heating has experienced for several weeks.
What does this mean for an agent?
It will place greater emphasis on the landlord/agent to ensure that the property is fit for habitation at the commencement of the tenancy and during the occupation itself. You will need to ensure that there is a detailed check in inventory covering the relevant areas contained within the Fitness Test i.e. heating, trips and falls, and security. In addition, you need to ensure there are regular property visits to take note of any defects with a property whether these have been caused by the tenant or fair wear and tear.
Finally, the importance of having a robust and detailed repairing system cannot be understated.