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Your Guide To The Fitness For Human Habitation Act

By Darragh Timlin on November 8th, 2022

The Fitness For Human Habitation Act is something that all new buy-to-let landlords need to understand to ensure that they let residential properties that meet with Government legislation.

It has become an essential piece of property letting legislation that has applied to almost all tenancies since March 2020. It applies to all rental properties from the beginning of a new tenancy and throughout the length of the tenancy, so landlords need to ensure they meet their compliance as outlined in the Act.

Landlords need to understand their rights and responsibilities and those of their tenants. This includes protecting themselves with the most appropriate landlord insurance, which can prove invaluable, especially when you need to improve your buy-to-let properties to meet your duties under the Fitness For Human Habitation Act.

What is the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, was introduced to ensure that all landlords provide rental properties that are fit for human habitation. The Act has applied to almost all residential letting tenancies since the 20th of March 2020.

The Act is an amendment to the earlier Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and applies to private and social tenancies. The Act requires all landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation at every stage of the tenancy, including common areas and not just the property itself.

Does the Fitness for Human Habitation Act apply to all tenancies?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 applies to almost all residential lettings in private and social sectors. The Act applies to:

Tenancies shorter than seven years that are granted on or after the 20th of March 2019

  • New secure, assured, and introductory tenancies granted on or after the 20th of March 2019
  • Tenancies renewed for a fixed term on or after the 20th of March 2019
  • All periodic tenancies from the 20th of March 2020

However, the Act doesn’t apply to anyone with a ‘licence to occupy’ instead of a standard tenancy agreement. This may include lodgers in your own home, property guardians and some people currently living in temporary accommodation.

Does my property meet the Fitness for Human Habitation Act criteria?

As a responsible residential landlord, you must ensure that your rental property meets with specific criteria to comply with the Act.

The original criteria were set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. The new homes fitness for human habitation act updates the criteria and further clarifies what makes a rental property unfit for human habitation.

Some issues that would make a rental property unfit to let out to tenants include:

  • A building that’s been neglected or is in bad condition
  • A serious problem with damp
  • An unsafe layout
  • An unstable building
  • Difficulty to prepare and cook food or to wash up
  • Not enough natural light
  • Not enough ventilation
  • Problems with the drainage or the lavatories
  • Problems with the supply of hot and cold water

It is the duty of the landlord to fix any health and safety hazards as soon as their tenants make them aware of a problem. The tenant also shares in these responsibilities and should report any issues with the property in a timely manner so the landlord can take appropriate action.

While the landlord has a reasonable length of time to fix any problems, depending on the circumstances and nature of the issue, they still need to provide tenants with at least 24 hours written notice of a visit to fix a problem.

Landlords should also ensure that any work on the property is done within reasonable hours. The tenant has the right to peaceful habitation, so carrying out DIY tasks, repairs or fixes at ten o’clock at night would be considered unreasonable.

When can a landlord refuse to fix property issues?

While residential landlords need to ensure that their rental properties are fit for human habitation, there are circumstances under which a landlord has a right to refuse to fix a property issue. The landlord isn’t required to remedy unfitness when:

  • The landlord hasn’t been able to get consent (they must have evidence that they’ve made reasonable efforts to gain permission)
  • The problem has been caused by an “act of god”, such as a fire, storm, or flood, which is beyond the landlord’s control
  • The problem has been caused by the tenant’s behaviour or their possessions
  • The tenant isn’t an individual, e.g. national parks, housing associations, educational institutions, etc.

What penalties do landlords face if the property is not fit for human habitation?

Tenants can take their landlord to court over issues that make the property unfit for human habitation. Should the courts agree with the tenant, they will require the landlord to make improvements to the property’s condition to bring it up to current living standards.

The landlord may also be liable to pay their tenants compensation, and there isn’t any set cap on how much compensation can be awarded to the tenant. The compensation amount will be at the discretion of the judge in charge of the case.

FAQs

Q: I have a tenant that signed a tenancy agreement before the Act came into force. Can they use the Homes Fitness For Human Habitation Act?

If your tenant signed a tenancy agreement before The Homes Fitness For Human Habitation Act came into effect, the Act still applies to the property you let to them. Your tenants can get help from their local Citizens Advice, local council or letting agent or seek redress through the courts. But it would help to resolve any issues directly with your tenant whenever possible.

If you are a social property landlord, you must carry out repairs on your property under the Act, including the common parts of the building. Failure to do so can see your tenants escalating their issues to the Housing Ombudsman.

Q. What has changed with this legislation?

The Homes Fitness For Human Habitation Act requires:

  • Landlords must ensure that any dwelling they rent out is free of hazards from which risk of harm may arise to the health or safety of the tenant or another occupier of the property. This requirement applies from the outset and for the duration of the tenancy; and
  • Where a landlord fails to do so, the tenant has the right to take action in court for a breach of contract because the property is unfit for human habitation. The remedies available to the tenant will include an order by the court requiring the landlord to take action to reduce or remove the hazard and damages to compensate them for having to live in a property which was not fit for human habitation.

The landlord’s obligations to provide decent housing remain the same, as do the tenant’s duties to act responsibly and appropriately.

Conclusion

The Homes Fitness For Human Habitation Act is an essential piece of government legislation that landlords must understand and remain compliant with.

While it can be challenging to stay on top of all your landlord duties, at least you can have peace of mind with our landlord insurance to help protect you and your property assets. It is worth keeping up with the latest property news and government reforms to help you be a responsible landlord to your tenants. We understand that each business is unique. That’s why we offer customised business insurance solutions tailored to your specific requirements.

Darragh Timlin

With over 25 years’ experience, Darragh is an expert in all things insurance. Starting his career in commercial property underwriting, Darragh has worked for a number of global insurers and is now Managing Director of Brisco Business, part of the wider Henry Seymour Group.

All articles by Darragh Timlin

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