The government introduced the Fitness for Human Habitation Act last month. This law, which is also known as the Homes Act, essentially ensures that all rental properties are deemed safe.
Letting agent MakeUrMove have taken the trouble to explain what the act means.
Who does the act apply to?
The Fitness for Human Habitation Act is applicable to all social or private rental properties.
Tenants who signed a tenancy agreement from 20th March 2019 will be able to use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act straight away. However, tenants who signed a tenancy agreement before the 20th March 2019 won’t be able to use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act.
If you have a secure or assured tenancy, statutory tenancy or a private periodic tenancy, you will be able to use the act from the 20th March 2020. However, if the tenancy is a fixed term contract that began before the 20th March 2019, then tenants will have to wait until the end of the tenancy.
Exceptions to the rule
One instance is if the tenant is responsible for the reason why a property is no longer fit for habitation. This could be due to damage caused by the tenant or through illegal activity. Where this is the case, the tenant will be the one responsible for putting the problem right.
When it comes to possessions, the landlord is only responsible for possessions that are included in the inventory at the start of the tenancy, and not the tenant’s own possessions.
Landlords may also need to seek permission from all parties before making a rental property fit for habitation. For example, in the case of flats, landlords will have to get permission from the building owners, and even the council, before they can make certain changes to a property.
Lastly, landlords are not held accountable for acts of God, such as fires, storms and floods, as these are beyond a landlord’s control.
What is considered a problem under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act?
There are several aspects which could make a property no longer fit for human habitation. These include if a building is structurally unstable, or problems such as damp, lack of ventilation, carbon monoxide, overcrowding, and problems with drainage and the supply of hot and cold water.
This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and tenants should check if a potential problem is listed in the Fitness for Human Habitation Act or in the tenancy agreement.
What to do if you think your rental property is unfit for habitation
The first step is to notify your landlord. Once your landlord is aware of the problem, you should allow a reasonable length of time for them to rectify the problem, which is dependent on the scale of the problem.
However, if your landlord fails to fix the problem in a reasonable length of time or at all, then you can use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act.
Using the Fitness for Human Habitation Act
Before using the Fitness for Human Habitation Act, tenants should contact their landlord a second time to notify them of the problem. This is because if it is taken to court, tenants have to show they tried to sort the problem with their landlord.
In this second piece of contact, tenants need to highlight the problem, when they first reported it to the landlord, and any consequential problems that have resulted due to the rental property not being fit for habitation. If your landlord still fails to put the problem right, then the next step is court.
If a case gets taken to court, then evidence will be required. This includes copies of contact made between the tenant and landlord, or even a letting agent and local council regarding the problem.
Tenants will also need photographic evidence, a doctor’s note if it has had an impact on their health, receipts of anything that has had to be replaced, a copy of the tenancy agreement or proof that rent is being paid to the landlord.
Winning or losing the court case
If a landlord is found to have not provided its tenant with a home fit for habitation, the courts will either enforce the landlord to undertake the work to make the rental property habitable or make the landlord pay compensation to the tenants.
The compensation amount will be based on the length of time the rental property was deemed unfit for human habitation, the seriousness of the problem and the impact this has had on the tenant.
If a tenant loses their case, then they will have to pay the legal costs associated with taking the case to court.
Tenants can also consult with the local council as they can take action on a tenant’s behalf for free.
Landlords, if you want to ensure your rental property meets the Fit for Human Habitation Act, make sure you have read the government’s ‘How to rent’ guide.