Environment, Safety and Standards Regulation and Enforcement

Fitness for Human Habitation Act: What does it mean for me?

Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

The RLA has launched a new guide outlining landlords’ responsibility when it comes to the new rules – and the penalties for getting it wrong.

Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 has passed into law, with the act to be implemented next month.

As of March 20, all landlords (or agents acting on their behalf) in England must ensure their rental properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning and throughout the tenancy.

If they are not, the new act gives tenants powers to take landlords to court for breach of contract, force them to carry out improvement works and claim compensation.

Landlords can potentially be sued for damages for the entire length of the contract.

So, what does ‘fit for human habitation actually mean? 

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) – currently under review by the government – will be used to assess whether homes meet the criteria, with the final decision made by a judge based on the findings.

Criteria 

A number of issues will be considered before a judgement is made. These include:

  • repair
  • stability
  • damp
  • internal arrangement
  • natural lighting
  • ventilation
  • water supply
  • drainage and sanitary conveniences
  • facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water
  • Hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System

If the home is considered significantly defective in any one or more areas, it will be considered an unfit home. This is at the discretion of a judge – but is a facts-based assessment.

What do I need to do?

If you are confident there are no problems with your homes – which should be the case if you are a responsible landlord then, quite simply, you don’t need to do anything.

However you need to be vigilant.

While the legislation does not state that the tenant must notify you, the expectation is that it will work in the same way as the current repairing obligations for landlords. 

This means that for joint tenancies landlords will need to be notified of a defect that arises during the tenancy by the tenant.  They will then have a reasonable time frame to fix this issue.  

For tenancies where the property is rented out on a per room basis, landlords obligations will start from the moment the defect occurs, even if the tenant does not notify the landlord.

The landlord will again have a reasonable time to fix the issue from the moment the defect occurs.  What this ‘reasonable time frame’ is would depend on the issue itself and external factors. 

A broken boiler may not be considered an absolute emergency in the middle of a heatwave, however in the depths of winter it is reasonable to expect landlords to act extremely quickly to sort the problem out.

Fail to do the repairs on time and you could be hauled before the courts.

The Act currently only applies to tenancies made after March 20, so any tenancy entered before that date will not INITIALLY be affected, even if the tenants move in after that date.

However, it is expected to be rolled out to all periodic tenancies from March 20th2020 so if you have any concerns about your properties you should address them now before it’s too late.

  • If you would like to find out more about your responsibilities, the RLA offers a range of safety, hazards and repairs courses. To find out more visit www.rla.org.uk/training.
  • To read the RLA guide on the new act and your responsibilities click here.

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Communications Manager for the RLA and award-winning Editor of RPI magazine. With 16 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for producing articles for our Campaigns and News Centre, the weekly E-News newsletter and editorial content for our media partners.

She issues press releases promoting the work of the RLA and its policies and campaigns to the regional and national media and works alongside the marketing team on the association’s social media channels to build support for the RLA and its work.

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