Fitness for Habitation: A Definitive Landlord Guide
Published on April 24, 2019 by Sarah Mac
On 20 March 2019 the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 was introduced. It is designed to ensure that all rented accommodation is fit for human habitation. Whilst the Act did not introduce any new obligations for landlords, it does aim to make sure that they are meeting their existing responsibilities concerning property standards and safety, making it easier for tenants to seek redress.
What is the Fitness for Habitation Act 2018?
The Act applies to the social and private rented sectors and makes it clear that landlords must ensure their property, including any common parts of the building, is fit for human habitation throughout the tenancy.
The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 was amended under the new Act, requiring all landlords to make sure that their properties are fit for human habitation at the start of a tenancy, and throughout its duration.
To achieve this, landlords must ensure their properties are free from hazards that are serious enough to make the dwelling not reasonably suitable for occupation.
The Act has introduced additional means for tenants to seek redress in the event that a property they are renting is not safe or fit for human habitation. Failure to comply with their responsibilities will allow tenants the right to take action in the courts.
Who does the Fitness for Habitation Act apply to?
The Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 applies to:
- Tenancies up to 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019
- All new secure, assured and introductory tenancies granted on or after 20 March 2019
- Tenancies renewed for a fixed term on or after 20 March 2019
- All period tenancies granted from 20 March 2020
There are some exceptions. The landlord will not be required to remedy cases of unfitness when:
- The issue has been caused by the tenant
- The issue has been caused by the tenant’s own possessions
- The issue is down to events such as fires, floods, storms or anything else that is outside of the landlord’s control
- The landlord has been unable to obtain consent to remedy issues, for example planning permissions, freeholder consent, etc.; providing there is evidence of reasonable efforts to obtain permission
- The tenant is not an individual, for example it is a local authority, housing association, educational institution or national park
What are the Criteria for Fitness for Human Habitation?
If a tenant makes a complaint then it is down to the courts to decide whether the property they are renting is fit for human habitation. The courts will do this by considering whether:
- There’s a serious problem with damp and mould growth
- There is excess cold and exposure to cold temperatures
- There is excess heat and exposure to high temperatures
- There is exposure to asbestos fibres or manufactured mineral fibres
- There is exposure to biocides used to treat timber and mould growth
- There is exposure to carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide or smoke
- Lead has been ingested
- There is exposure to radiation
- There is exposure to uncombusted fuel gas
- There is exposure to volatile organic compounds
- There is a lack of adequate space for living and sleeping
- There are difficulties in keeping the dwelling secure against unauthorised entry
- There is a lack of adequate lighting and not enough natural light
- There is too much exposure to noise
- The dwelling is poorly designed or its layout or construction mean that it cannot be kept clean
- There is exposure to pests
- There is inadequate provision for the hygienic storage and disposal of household waste
- There is inadequate provision of facilities for the storage, preparation and cooking of food
- There is inadequate provision of facilities for maintaining good personal hygiene
- There is inadequate provision of sanitation and drainage
- There is an inadequate supply of hot and cold water that is free from contamination, for drinking or other domestic purposes
- There have been falls associated with toilets, baths, showers or other washing facilities
- There have been falls on any level surface or instances of falling between surfaces where the change in level is less than 30cm
- There have been falls on stairs, steps or ramps where the change in level is 30cm or more
- There have been falls between levels where the difference in levels is 30cm or more
- There are electrical hazards and exposure to electricity
- There is exposure to uncontrolled fire and associated smoke
- There is contact with controlled fire or flames and hot objects or surfaces, liquid or vapours
- The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- There has been collision with or entrapment of body parts in doors, windows or other architectural features
- There has been an explosion at the dwelling
- The position, location and operability of amenities, fittings and equipment falls short of reasonable standards
- The building is unstable, usually leading to the entire dwelling or part of it having collapsed or parts of it fallen down
It is vital that landlords are aware of the test for fitness for human habitation as there is now ample scope for tenants to seek redress which could lead to costly court action. A professionally compiled inventory report prepared by an inventory clerk with a good understanding of the new Act will provide the evidence you need to prove that you have done all you can to provide a habitable place to live for your tenants.