Following the passing of Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 into law, it is important that landlords are aware of their responsibilities in relation to the new rules.
From March 20, all landlords in England, as well as letting agents acting on their behalf, must ensure their rental properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning and throughout the tenancy.
Failure to meet the new requirements could see tenants take landlords to court for breach of contract, forcing them to carry out improvement works as well as claim compensation.
Andrew Turner, chief executive at specialist buy-to-let mortgage broker Commercial Trust Limited, said: “For most landlords, who are managing properties that are in good condition and are well maintained, there should not be anything new to do.
“However, landlords should be on their guard as there is the potential for landlords to find themselves subject to court action from tenants, for breach of contract, should a property not meet required standards. Landlords could find themselves forced to carry out improvements and could be subject to compensation claims.
“There is the possibility that a landlord could be sued for damages, for the full duration of the contract.”
The legislation has been brought in to help raise living standards in the PRS.
Turner points out that there are a number of housing issues being looked at, which include:
• repair work;
• levels of dampness in the property;
• internal arrangement;
• how much natural lighting there is in the property;
• the amount of ventilation;
• the quality of the water supply;
• how well drainage and sanitary conveniences work;
• what facilities there are for the preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water;
• and, Hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
Under the new rules, a home needs to be regarded as significantly defective in one or more of the above areas, in order to be considered as unfit.
The Act states: “The house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable in that condition”.
A judge will ultimately make the decision on whether or not this is the case, according to Turner.
He continued: “If a problem arises in a rental property, there is an expectation that the tenant will notify the landlord, in order for any issue to be repaired within a reasonable timeframe.
“In this sense, the current landlord obligations will not change.
“So in the case of joint tenancies, a landlord will need to be made aware of a defect during the tenancy, by the tenant. The landlord must then respond within reasonable time frame to fix this issue.
“When the property is rented out on a per room basis, for example if it is a shared property or House of Multiple Occupancy, the landlord’s obligation is instantaneous, from the moment the defect occurs, regardless of whether or not the tenant informs them.
“The landlord will again be obliged to remedy the issue within a ‘reasonable time frame’ which would be determined by the nature of the problem and potentially external factors.”
Whilst the landlord will be responsible for addressing issues in most cases, the Act does not make landlords liable for damage or disrepair caused by the tenant’s conduct.
Furthermore, the landlord will not be expected to rebuild or reinstate a destroyed building or to carry out works which are the responsibility of a superior landlord, or where it is not possible to obtain necessary third party consent.
Turner added: “The majority of landlords will not need to do anything, if they are maintaining a property in good condition, so long as they react appropriately, should a defect be reported.
“The law may have more significant ramifications where the landlord is responsible for a regulated tenancy, where repair and modernisation are restricted by the presence of a sitting tenant.”
You can read more on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, by clicking here.