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Housing Disrepair: new legislation for Landlords

MJV&Co
by MJV&Co

On 20 March 2020, the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) comes into full force.

It already applies to certain types of tenancies that started on or after 20 March 2019, but will apply to all qualifying tenancies on the same day in 2020.

Does it apply?

For the purposes of most residential landlords’ business, it will.

This is because it applies to:

  • tenancies shorter than 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019 (tenancies longer than 7 years that can be terminated by the landlord before the expiry of 7 years shall be treated as if the tenancy was for less than 7 years)
  • new secure, assured and introductory tenancies (on or after 20 March 2019)
  • tenancies renewed for a fixed term (on or after 20 March 2019)
  • from the 20 March 2020 the Act will apply to all periodic tenancies. This is all tenancies that started before 20 March 2019; in this instance landlords will have 12 months from the commencement date of the Act before the requirement comes into force

As most private residential tenancies are for 6-12 months, it is highly likely that the Act will be a consideration for most landlords

What Does it Mean?

Back in 1985, the Landlord and Tenant Act of that year inserted a clause into all relevant tenancy agreements that required homes to be fit for human habitation, but it only applied to properties where the rent was below a certain amount. This meant that, very soon, it did not apply to any tenancies and was irrelevant.

The Act does not link the requirement to the rent paid and so it will apply to all qualifying tenancies and will not become outdated or inoperable due to inflation. It is here to stay.

It requires landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation and the test for this will be whether there are any of the following issues:

  • 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

Damp

As housing disrepair specialists, our view is that the biggest change brought in by the Act will be the way landlords are required to address damp.

Currently

Only damp, mould and other such water related issues that are caused by disrepair at properties are actionable.

For example, a property that has penetrating damp due to a failed damp proof course would fall under the landlord’s responsibilities. The damp proof course is in disrepair and has allowed the damp problem to develop.

A property that was poorly designed and suffered from damp due to poor ventilation would not be covered by the landlord’s duty.

The Change

Unless a landlord can prove that the damp is caused by the tenant not acting like a good tenant (by not opening windows in the summer for example), damp and mould are a prescribed hazard. The landlord would be required to take steps to resolve the problem such as by fitting extractor fans. This would previously have been considered an improvement that a landlord was not required to make.

Generally

The above is just one example used to illustrate the point.

If you are a landlord or a letting agent and receive complaints from tenants, you need to know that the law is changing and the scope of your responsibilities has changed.

We act for claimants in such claims and we foresee that the number of housing disrepair claims with a reasonable prospect of success increasing significantly following the full introduction of the Act.

What Should I Do?

It is always wise to ensure that your insurance is comprehensive enough to provide you with assistance should a tenant present such a claim against you. Make enquiries of your broker or insurer and check if you have legal expenses insurance and, if so, what it covers.

You should also seek legal advice. This is is especially so if you have a tenant in a property who has complained of disrepair that was not previously your responsibility as it may well be as of 20 March 2020.

At MJV Solicitors we can offer a no obligation free consultation to advice landlords on the changes to the law and their responsibilities. Call us today on 01253 858231 to arrange.