All landlords could soon be sued for renting sub-standard homes

From 19th March, every rented property in England will need to achieve minimum living standards for tenants to be deemed legal for letting.

The (Homes) Fitness for Human Habitation Act came into play in March 2019 for all new or renewed tenancies in England. Since that date, all rented properties with new contracts had to be fit for occupation from the beginning and throughout the tenancy, with landlords being forced to take full responsibility for this – meaning they can’t contract out their obligations.

As of later this month, the same rules will apply to all tenancy arrangements across England, whether public or private, new or existing. It also covers periodic and secure tenancies.

The fact that every rented property in the country will fall into this remit from 19th March could see a rise in the number of landlords who neglect their responsibilities being exposed. This is not only good news for tenants, but also for the industry in general, as standards are expected to be raised as a result.

What makes a home unfit for habitation?

A property would be deemed not fit for human habitation due to falling seriously short in one of the following factors: repairs, damp, internal arrangement, natural lighting, ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitary conditions, stability, food preparation and disposal of waste facilities, or any “prescribed hazard“.

When tenants flag up issues, they will prompt an assessment to be carried out. A property is only deemed unfit if it is “so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition”.

Shelter says: “Expert evidence from a surveyor or independent environmental health practitioner could be obtained to establish unfitness and the landlord’s liability in complex cases. In simpler cases, such as lack of heating, it will be possible for the court to make a finding of unfitness on the tenant’s own non-expert evidence.”

If a landlord receives a court order to take action on certain issues in a property to make it fit for habitation, they must comply or risk prosecution.

Most landlords comply

According to Jessica Hampson of CEL Solicitors commented that, while landlords have always been obliged to maintain their rental properties, the new law takes things a step further.

“It gives tenants a voice and chance to hold their landlords to account if they are living in, and paying for, sub-standard accommodation.

“While the majority of landlords comply with this law already, there are unfortunately some who do not ensure their tenants’ homes are ‘fit for habitation’.”

“Although the law was brought in last March, it was only initially relevant to new tenancies – including contract renewals – so it was largely applicable to private landlords, as social housing contracts tend to be more historical. Many landlords were therefore essentially given a ‘buffer’ to quite literally get their houses in order.”

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