New Fitness for Human Habitation Bill

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The Homes Fitness of Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards Bill (Fitness for human habitation) is now going through the Commons.

Firstly, how will this affect landlords and tenants in the future? Its report stage is due on the 26th of October this year.  It then goes back to the House of Commons for a third reading before it goes through the House of Lords. It is then considered for amendment at the end with royal consent.  However, it has crossed party support and could well become law.

How will it affect you?

The bill would give private and social tenants the ability to take landlords to court if their homes are unsafe. It means tenants would have rights to repairs for property issues. Things such as mould, excess cold, fire risk etc. It compels landlords to carry out works to their properties. The courts are able to give the Injunction to promote landlords to do work or give large damages. Where landlords fail to carry out works the tenants have rights to take legal action. This is on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation.

Most Societies and the National Landlord Association have given their backing to the bill.  Keep an eye on our newsletter as we will keep you updated on when this Bill becomes law.  It has wide-ranging consequences for landlords and tenants as well as wide support.

Update

We can confirm that the private members Bill has now passed and is now law. The Bill gives greater responsibility to residential landlords. It implies in a residential tenancy that the property must be fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout. The Landlord & Tenant Act of 1885 was the original legislation. The latest bill is an update to that. It means that tenants have the right to take legal action if landlords fail to keep properties in a state that is fit for human habitation.
The definition of fit for human habitation is as follows. “So far defective in one or more matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in the condition”

What does this mean for landlords?

The bill focusses on landlords making repairs and keeping the property liveable. The items it addresses are below:

  • Stability – this could be due to the property having subsidence etc.
  • Freedom from damp – although a grey area freedom from damp means that landlords now need to ensure that the property is free from all forms of damp
  • Internal arrangement – ensuring that the interior of the property is fit for human habitation
  • Natural lighting – this is to ensure that there is as much natural lighting within the property as is possible.
  • Facilities for the preparation and cooking of food – it is essential now that landlords provide cooking facilities. Landlords must repair these within a set period of time. Landlords can involve the local authority if repairs are not done quick enough.
  • Water supply – landlords need to ensure that they have a consistent water supply.
  • Drainage and sanitary convenience – these need to be free from any form of problems and that they actually work.
  • Ventilation – the landlord needs to ensure that the property is and has a free flow of air.
  • Facilities for the disposal of wastewater – the landlord has the responsibility to make sure that there is a working outlet for waste water.

The above is going to be very important with landlords that deal with HMO Properties.

Why is this needed?

There have been long-standing concerns about property standards for a considerable length of time. In 2016/2017 the English Housing Survey found that 38% of private renters lived in poor or substandard housing.
The current Statute of obligations regarding the upkeep of properties has become outdated. They have ceased to become effective as a result of annual rent limits. The bill now applies to all residential property thereby bringing to an end the outdated anomalies. It also gives tenants a civil remedy meaning they can appeal against their living conditions.

Are there any exceptions?

There are some exceptions from the implied covenant to keep properties in a suitable state. Landlords will not be liable for the unfitness of a property in the following circumstances:-

  • Natural disaster
  • Tenants failure to use the property in a tenant like manner

The legal remedies are for the tenants to report the matter to the local authority. The local authority will then have the right to impose fines and potentially stop the landlord for re-renting the property. The tenant will also have the right to damages in the Courts. It is therefore important that landlords not only maintain their properties but keep them updated on a regular basis.

Who can use the Act?

The homes Act applies to tenants who live in social or private rented houses and flats. The type of housing you live in, for example a bungalow, house or flat is not important. It also doesn’t matter how you pay your rent or if you are housing benefit or universal credit. It is the agreement you have with your landlord or letting agent that matters.

You can use the homes Act immediately if you signed your tenancy agreement on or after the 20th March 2019, whether or not this meant you moved into a new property.

If you signed your contract before March 2019, you have to wait until 2020 before you can use the Act.

What do I need to do if I want to use the Act?

Check if the way you rent your house is covered by the homes Act.

You can do this by checking about the homes Act section of the guidance by the Government or by checking the agreement you have with your landlord. If you are still confused or unable to find the agreement you can always ask citizens advice.

You need to identify what the problem is. Is it one of the following;

  1. The building has been neglected or is in bad condition.
  2. The building is unstable.
  3. There is a serious damp problem.
  4. It has an unsafe layout.
  5. There is not enough natural light.
  6. There is not enough ventilation.
  7. There is a problem with supply of hot and cold water.
  8. There is problem with the drainage or lavatory.
  9. It is difficult to prepare or cook food or wash up.

There is a problem with any of the following 29 things;

  • Damp and mould.
  • Excess cold.
  • Excess heat.
  • Asbestos and manufactured metal fibres.
  • Biocides
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead
  • Radiation
  • Combusted fuel gas
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Crowding and space
  • Entry by intruders
  • Lighting
  • Domestic hygiene, pest and refuse
  • Noise
  • Food safety
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
  • Water supply
  • Faults associated with bath or shower
  • Faults associated with stairs and steps
  • Falls on the levels
  • Falls between levels
  • Electrical hazards
  • Fire and fire safety
  • Hot surfaces and materials
  • Collision and entrapment
  • Explosions
  • Physical strain associated with operating amenities
  • Structural collapse and falling elements

If you have a problem with any of the above items then you need to consider the next steps;

Is the problem so bad it makes your house or flat not fit to live in?

You have to remember if you go to court, you will be asked the question by the judge and your landlord will be asked to explain why they does not think it is true.

If you think your house or flat is in a seriously dangerous condition, you should also tell your local authority. They have legal powers that may be able to use to get repairs done quickly, at no cost to you and be able to protect you against being evicted. Council and housing association tenants can also follow the complaints procedure for the housing provider and where necessary escalate it to the ombudsmen.

Check if there might be a reason why your landlord wont have to help.

The right of reasonable access.

In an emergency, the landlord is allowed to enter your property. However, in the case of repairing a problem to making it fit for human habitation, your landlord should give you at least 24 hours notice. The visit should be within reasonable hours. This would mean not too late at night and not too early in the morning.

If your landlord hasn’t given you reasonable notice, or wants to do repairs at unreasonable hours, they cant say that they have made reasonable efforts to make the house fit for human habitation.

If you have not already told your landlord, then tell them now.

Not told your landlord? If you have not already told your landlord of the problem you need to do immediately. Your landlord must fix problems in your home, but you have a responsibility to tell them what they are. You should make a reasonable request for a problem to be fixed, in writing if at all possible by email. You should then allow your landlord a reasonable time in which to fix the problem

What is a reasonable time?

The Act does not define reasonable time but it is accepted of anything up to 30 days as a reasonable period.

Fixing the problem in a reasonable time.

Your landlord has duty to repair any problems in your home within a reasonable amount of time. It does depend on the nature of the problem and how serious it is. However, this is very subjective.

When can you use the homes Act?

If you have reached this step and you want to start thinking about using the homes Act and taking your landlord to court over the conditions you will need to do the following;

  • Write to your landlord asking them to solve the problem again in an email or by way of letter. You should also include your letting agent if they have one.
  • Your letter or email should state what you need putting right, when you reported and if you reported it more than once how many times you reported it. You also need to outline what is it causing you.
  • Keep a copy of the letter and the reply you might get.

If you are worried you haven’t got enough evidence and you are not a council tenant then your local council environmental health department might be able to inspect your property for you.

You need to then get evidence together before you go to court such as letters, photos, doctors notes and receipts etc.

The evidence should be sent in with your form.

You will need to give three copies to your local court so they can then issue a hearing.

The courts will then forward the documentation to your landlord in order to raise a defence and they may then include a hearing.

The most important thing in all of this is communication. The more you communicate the more likely it will be resolved.

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