Fitness for Human Habitation Act: a landlord guide

Landlord Advice

17 April 2020

As a landlord, you want to do your best by your tenants, and one fundamental way of doing that is to make sure the houses or flats you rent out are comfortable and safe for your tenants to live in.

It’s not just a mark of a good landlord, it’s a legal requirement too. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act gives tenants the power to take legal action against those landlords who don’t take their responsibilities seriously.

So, to find out more about the ins and outs of the Act and what you should be doing to make sure your rental property complies, here’s everything you need to know about the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act.

 

What is the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act?

Introduced on 20 March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act requires all landlords in England (including letting agencies) to maintain their properties so they meet the minimum standard for human habitation at the beginning and for the duration of the tenancy. The Act aims to protect tenants by giving them the power to take legal action against landlords they believe are acting irresponsibly.

The Fitness for Human Habitation Act is an extension of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which sets out guidelines for private and social landlords so their properties are fit for human habitation.

Landlords don’t need to meet new obligations or follow different rules under this Act. The legislation simply makes it easier for tenants to hold landlords accountable and take them to court if they believe their properties aren’t in a habitable condition. 

If you’re a landlord in Scotland or Wales, you can visit the government’s website or Citizens Advice for information about the equivalent legislation in your area.

 

Does the Fitness for Human Habitation Act apply to all tenancies?

The Act applies to tenancy agreements in England granted after 20 March 2019. This includes:

  • Tenancies shorter than seven years
  • Seven-year tenancies that can be prematurely terminated by the landlord
  • Secure, introductory or assured fixed-term tenancies of more than years
  • 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 Act does not apply to:

  • Licence agreements – such as lodgers, people living in temporary accommodation and some property guardians
  • Shared ownership leases
  • Most business, government or local authority tenancies

For more information about the type of tenancies covered by the Fitness for Human Habitation Act, visit the government’s website here.

 

Does my property meet the Fitness for Human Habitation Act criteria?

A property would be deemed unfit by the courts if one or more of the following issues were so bad that it would be unreasonable to expect a person to live there.

  • Unstable building
  • Serious dampness
  • Unsafe layout
  • Not enough natural light
  • Bad 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

The courts decide whether a property is fit for human habitation. They might get an expert’s advice, like the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), but they don’t have to. For example, if a property doesn’t have any toilet facilities, an expert opinion isn’t necessary because the property is very obviously unfit.

 

Are issues with the property always the landlord’s responsibility?

Landlords aren’t always responsible for property defects. There are some occasions where the landlord isn’t required by law to fix a problem with the property. And, tenants have a responsibility to maintain and look after the property.

The landlord won’t be required to fix problems that have been caused by:  

  • The tenant behaving irresponsible or illegally
  • An ‘act of God’ like a fire, storm or flood
  • The tenants’ own possessions that aren’t included in the inventory.

The landlord can’t be held accountable when they can’t fix a problem if:

  • They can’t get planning permission or permission from freeholders. (There must be evidence that they’ve made reasonable efforts to get this.)
  • The tenant isn’t an individual. For example, local authorities, or housing associations.

 

How long do landlords have to fix a problem?

Landlords are responsible for an issue in their property from the moment the tenant tells them about it. Landlords have a reasonable amount of time to deal with the issue, which varies depending on how serious it is. If there are any hazards in a communal area of a block of flats or in a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), the landlord could be liable.

If a tenant makes their landlord aware of an issue, and they’re not actively attempting to fix it, the tenant could be able to take the landlord to court. So, landlords should always attempt to fix an issue with the property as soon as possible.

 

What happens if my property is deemed unfit by the courts?

During the court hearing, the judge will look at the evidence provided by the landlord and the tenant. If a landlord is found to be failing to comply with the Act and the courts decide the property isn’t fit for human habitation because it’s dangerous or unhealthy, they can make the landlord:

  • Pay compensation to the tenant

The amount of compensation is at the judge’s discretion and there aren’t set penalty limits. The judge will consider the harm caused to the tenant and the condition of the property. Landlords may also be ordered to pay tenant’s legal costs.

  • Fix the issues in the property

The courts will consider the work to be compulsory and the type and number of improvements will depend on the property’s condition.  

 

What happens if I win the court case?

If a landlord wins the case, the tenant might have to pay some costs. The amount they’ll need to pay varies case by case and will be decided by the courts.

You might want to consider taking independent legal advice to discuss the different outcomes of going to court.

 

As a landlord, it can be hard to find the time to stay on top of all the rules and legislation you need to follow. That’s why AXA want to help you every step of the way. Not only do we provide comprehensive landlord insurance to give you ultimate peace of mind,  but we’re also on-hand to give you the latest industry news so you’re always in-the-know and following the latest advice.

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