A new law will give tenants the ability to sue their landlords if the the living conditions in their rented accommodation are poor.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 will come into force in exactly one week on March 20.
It will mean that landlords can be help accountable if they fail to carry out necessary repairs to improve poor conditions such as mould in their properties.
The law is an update of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and under the act there are no new obligations for landlords.
It is just designed to tenants the power to take their landlord to court if they fail to meet their existing responsibilities with regards to property standards and safety.
The new law will come into force next week for tenancies shorter than seven years.
Here’s what you need to know:
When can I take my landlord to court?
Once the act comes into force next Wednesday, landlords with properties let on existing tenancies had 12 months to comply.
For any new tenancies that start on or after March 20, the Act will apply immediately. If a landlord fails to comply with the Act, tenants may have the right to take court action for breach of contract.
What can the court do?
Under the act, if a tenant successfully takes a landlord to court over this issue then they could be forced to pay out compensation. If the court decides that the landlord has not provided their tenant with a home that is fit for habitation, then the court can:
- make the landlord pay compensation to their tenant
- make the landlord do the necessary works to improve their property
The courts will decide whether a property is fit for human habitation by considering the matters set out in section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
These are whether:
- the building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- the building is unstable
- there’s a serious problem with damp
- it has an unsafe layout
- there’s not enough natural light
- there’s not enough ventilation
- there is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- there are problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- it’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
- or any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005 It is for the courts to decide whether the dwelling is fit for human habitation.
The court may also make a decision on unfitness without expert advice.
For example, if there were no plumbed sanitary conveniences in the property an expert opinion would not be necessary as the property would evidently be unfit.
How long does the landlord have to fix the issues?
The landlord is considered responsible from when he or she is made aware of the hazard by the tenant. However, any hazard located in common parts of a block of flats or a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) would make the landlord immediately liable.
The landlord will then have a reasonable amount of time to deal with this hazard, which will depend on the circumstances. It is for the court to decide whether the landlord dealt with the hazard in a reasonable time.
Landlords should therefore rectify any damages that they are responsible for as soon as possible. If a tenant tells you about a problem that is in a common part of a building, then you are strongly advised to bring it to the freeholder’s attention as soon as possible.
Are there any exceptions?
The landlord will not be required to remedy unfitness when:
- the problem is caused by tenant behaviour
- the problem is caused by events like fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control (sometimes called ‘acts of God’)
- the problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
- the landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning permission, permission from freeholders etc.
There must be evidence of reasonable efforts to gain permission - the tenant is not an individual, e.g. local authorities, national parks, housing associations, educational institutions.
The Act does not cover people who have ‘licences to occupy’, instead of tenancy agreements. This may include lodgers (people who live with their landlord) some people who live in temporary accommodation, and some, but not all, property guardians.