Fitness For Human Habitation
While the local Bury St Edmunds market, and indeed property markets across the country, are gripped by Brexit, the government has now passed new legislation to safeguard the standard of lettings properties, known as The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, which came into effect in March.
A rare example of legislation drafted and secured by the opposition, and which received cross-party and government support – a likely reaction to the Grenfell Tower disaster – the act also responds to the 2016/17 English Housing Survey, which found that 27 per cent of homes in the private rented sector failed to meet the Decent Home Standard in 2016.
What began as a private members’ bill by Karen Buck MP was also designed to modernise the otherwise outdated Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.
The evolution of this 34-year-old legislation has overhauled the existing ‘fitness for habitation test’, which has set a benchmark in standards designed to regulate rogue operators. In our opinion, such modernisation was long overdue for the lettings market.
Under the previous act, a landlord was only required to keep a property ‘in repair’ and so a property in a state of disrepair at the start of the tenancy fell outside the mandate. This left tenants exposed when renting from illegitimate landlords, and was the result of a legislation technicality that should have been rectified long beforehand.
Now that the new legislation is in place, landlords must ensure that their properties are ‘fit for human habitation’ from the beginning of, and throughout, a tenancy.
When it comes to identifying properties that are ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ for human habitation, landlords should consider issues like damp, water supply, drainage, sanitary facilities, natural light and ventilation, among other possible criteria. Both social and private landlords – or agents acting on their behalf – should also ensure that communal areas are fit for purpose. As ever, extenuating circumstances do apply, which might see some landlords exempt from the act. For example, if the ‘unfitness’ of a property has been caused by a tenant, or if a property has been damaged by an insured risk such as fire or flood, landlords should apply for a temporary exemption.
Additionally, landlords are not liable if improvement works contravene planning consents, for example with a listed property, or if – in a leasehold property – the freeholder refuses permission of such changes. That said, it is blanket legislation, so landlords should assume that their properties are subject to its rulings.
For those who are unsure, we recommend consulting with appointed agents or seeking professional advice to confirm how the law applies to them. From March 20, the act has applied to all new residential tenancies of less than seven years and all fixed terms that become periodic on or after this date. For any tenancies that have become periodic before this date, the act will apply from March 20, 2020.
It is thought that few landlords will be affected by these changes, and the industry has generally welcomed the formalisation of standards. Regardless, a property deemed fit for human habitation is as much in the interest of the landlord as it is to the tenant.
However, tighter legislation requires greater diligence. If tenants believe the law has been breached, they may issue court proceedings against their landlord, which could result in the landlord being forced to not only carry out improvement works, but also to pay compensation.
Therefore, as all landlords have a responsibility to ensure that a property meets the required standards, we advise that landlords consider all relevant properties and make any changes necessary, and of course take into account the new stipulations when extending a property portfolio. For further advice or guidance don’t hesitate to contact Chris Oakes on 01284 702626 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org