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The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act became law on 20 March 2019. It is now one of over 140 pieces of legislation that affects the private rented sector as part of the Government’s pledge to reform and improve the private rented sector making it more tenant-friendly.

The legislation is designed to ensure that rented houses and flats are “fit for human habitation” meaning that they are safe, healthy and free from defects that may cause serious harm to the occupying tenants. This includes quite basic issues like inadequate provision for heating and hot water.

The Act does not cover just routine and reactive maintenance of the property but also the condition and quality of the property. Chronic issues like dampness and persistent mould and even draughtiness would also need to be addressed.

If rental properties are deemed unfit for human habitation then a tenant can take his landlord to court. The court can make the landlord carry out repairs or put right health and safety issues. It can also order a landlord to pay compensation to his tenant for time he has occupied an unfit property.

The legislation is not immediately retrospective and is only available to those tenants who signed their tenancy agreement on or after 20 March 2019 or whose tenancy became a periodic tenancy on or after that date. This applies irrespective of whether a tenant has moved into a new rental property. Therefore it can affect tenants who remain in their existing rental property but under a new tenancy agreement or holding over on the terms of an existing tenancy agreement that pre-dated 20 March 2019.

Tenants who signed tenancy agreements before 20 March 2019 will have to wait until 20 March 2020 before relying on the provisions of the Act. However this covers all tenancies regardless of when they began. Such tenancies will include private periodic tenancies, assured tenancies and statutory tenancies. Given the longevity of some of those tenancies, it is not uncommon for those rental properties to be in a more antiquated condition – which may mean that they have become unfit for human habitation by modern standards.

The Act only applies to tenancies granted for fixed terms of less than seven years.

Since April 2018 it has no longer been possible to rent out a property if the mandatory Energy Performance Certificate gives an energy efficiency rating below E. Whilst this is not a direct indicator that a property is unfit for human habitation it can mean, for example, that it cannot be heated without great expense thereby making it unfit for human habitation by a low income tenant whose health may become affected as a result.

It is worth noting that in the case of leasehold properties, landlord’s consent may be required for some of the alterations required to make a rental property fit for human habitation. Whilst a delay in obtaining this may be a temporary excuse for non-compliance with the new Act, it is not something that can be relied upon as a defence.

For some landlords the cost of carrying out works to make a rental property fit for human habitation and/or to improve its energy efficiency rating, may well outweigh the benefit of incoming rent thereby forcing them to abandon the rental business.

The Government believes that this is no bad thing in the case of rogue landlords who shirk their responsibilities to provide housing of acceptable condition and who give the private rented sector a bad name.

If you wish to discuss this topic further or have any other questions, please contact Rosie McCormick Paice or any member of the Edwin Coe Property team.

Edwin Coe LLP is a Limited Liability Partnership, registered in England & Wales (No.OC326366). The Firm is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. A list of members of the LLP is available for inspection at our registered office address: 2 Stone Buildings, Lincoln’s Inn, London, WC2A 3TH. “Partner” denotes a member of the LLP or an employee or consultant with the equivalent standing.

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