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The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force this week on 20th March 2019. This has confused some landlords (probably the deliberate intention) into feeling that they must inspect and take action where it is needed by 20th March.
Try not to panic – the legislation does not apply for all tenancies from that date. That in itself may worry some landlords – if it applied to all tenancies on the same date, it is far easier to remember to do something for all tenancies by the specified date, though would be expensive in time.
Only tenancies which are new tenancies from 21st March, or where a tenancy is renewed, are affected by the new legislation. If a fixed term tenancy ends and becomes a statutory periodic after 21st March, it becomes subject to the new legislation.
The simple advice is that before a new tenancy begins, or if a tenancy comes to an end, you should make a very careful and thorough inspection of the property, to ensure it is fit for human habitation.
This may involve additional steps to the inspection process. Are floor coverings firmly fixed, do windows open and shut properly? How secure are the doors and any fencing or gates? Are there any leaks, do taps turn on and off, without drips? Is the toilet clean and flushing correctly? Is there any evidence of damp? Is the heating adequate? If appliances are left in the property, are they in good condition? If not, get them repaired and cleaned, or dispose and replace.
To be clear: if you took a tenant on 1st March with a 6-month tenancy, you do not need to worry about the legislation until 31st August. If the tenant is to remain on a statutory periodic basis, then this would become a renewal of tenancy; if the tenant leaves and a new tenant moves in, the new legislation becomes relevant.
Is there any good news? Just a little. If the tenant is already on a statutory periodic basis, i.e. his tenancy started in 2018 and has run on from that time, the landlord has until 20th March 2020 to ensure that the property is still fit for human habitation.
Most landlords that take the time to read Residential Landlord will have no quibbles with the legislation. Many would be ashamed if the property was not good enough for them to live in, never mind not fit for human habitation! Most landlords though are at the mercy of tenants who do not know how to care for a property and have no regard for damage they may do, which they are all too happy to place at the door of the landlord.
You know what is coming next! Inspect, Inspect and keep on inspecting. Regular inspections during the course of the property, ‘to inspect for where there may be necessary repairs’, ensure you know what is happening to your property, and allow you the opportunity to ask how cupboard doors came off, how windows were cracked and to make a reasoned judgement whether this tenant should remain at the end of the tenancy.
The tenant who acknowledges damage and then rectifies it may be worth keeping; the tenant who does not – is the tenant to evict at the earliest (legal) opportunity.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon