Landlords: Are your residential properties fit for purpose?

Posted on: 20 March 2019

From today, 20 March 2019, private and social housing landlords who fail to keep tenants' homes fit for living in may be forced to carry out improvement work or else face court action.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 gives tenants new rights that include the ability to sue landlords if the condition of their housing is putting their health, safety or welfare at risk. Before court action, tenants get the opportunity to force negligent landlords into carrying out improvement work.

The new Act became law on 20 December 2018 and amended relevant sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, through extending the terms to almost all landlords and modernising the 'fitness for habitation' test.

Does the Act apply to all tenancies?

Private and social tenants in England get these new rights when they:

  • start a new tenancy after 20 March 2019; or
  • renew a tenancy after 20 March 2019.

Any tenancy (or renewal) entered into before 20 March will not be covered by the legislation, even if occupation began after that date.

The Act covers all tenancy contracts that last up to seven years. However, if a contract that lasts more than seven years has a break clause at two years (for instance), it will be treated as a two year tenancy, unless the break clause applies for the tenant only.

Why is it needed?

There have been concerns for some time that standards in the private rented housing sector aren't good enough. The English Housing Survey 2016/17 found that this sector had a higher share of homes with at least one serious hazard.

What makes a home 'unfit for human habitation'?

There are many scenarios under which housing may be deemed unsafe including:

  • serious damp and mould;
  • pests (mice, fleas, etc.)
  • drainage problems;
  • carbon monoxide; and
  • dangerous electrical fittings.

The hazard categories are listed in the HHSRS Regulations.