What Is the Fitness for Human Habitation Act?Written By PropertyLoop February 12, 2021
Landlords will of course be aware of their obligation to attend to any matters of repair to damage that had occurred to the rental property, but new landlords may be left asking what is the fitness for human habitation act and what makes a house unfit to live in?
As can be expected landlord must supply their tenants with rental accommodation that is safe for use and will not put them at risk during their tenancy. This is enforced through the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, regulations that empower renters to pursue legal action against owners that neglect to attend to their rental property.
Specifically, the legislation brought in during 2019, established a minimum threshold at which rental opportunities must remain throughout the lifetime of every tenancy. As of the 20th March 2019, the regulations were in place for all existing tenancies, ensuring that all tenants were enabled to compel their landlord to take action against poor rental conditions. With this being said the fitness for habitation act does not apply to license agreements, not shared ownership leases.
What Makes a House Unfit to Live In?
The 2018 Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act states that a rental property will be deemed unfit for habitation is “it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.” These “matters” are detailed below, with a rental being deemed unfit if they find significant issues with one or more of these following:
- Outbreak of damp or mould
- Lack of natural light
- poorly functioning heating system
- Poor drainage
- Unstable structure of the rental
- Poor internal layout
- Inadequate cooking facilities
- Poor supply of water
Ordering an Environmental Health House Inspection
If the tenant finds that their rental property is not safe to reside in then they are able to contact the private renting team of their local council. With the tenant’s permission, an inspection of the rental property can be conducted, potentially empowering Environmental Health to compel the landlord to take action.
The inspection will evaluate the property using the Housing Health and Safety Rating system or HHSRS. This will see the potential hazards throughout the rental be scrutinised, assessing the chance of harm, how significant the harm caused would be and who this would present a risk to; with these hazards then being sorted into category 1 or 2 depending on their severity.
Providing those risks have been identified the local authority will first provide the landlord time to address these issues, however, if the owner refuses to conduct the remedial work the council is likely to issue them with one of a series of notices.
Landlords could be served with a hazard awareness notice, clearly identifying what improvements need to be made across the property, alongside appropriate next steps for the owner. These will typically be issued for category 2 hazards and do not enforce a deadline for the landlord to carry to the needed repairs.
Alternatively, landlords may be served with an improvement notice which operates similarly to the hazard notice but established a clear date for the remedial works to start and be completed by, with the earliest time the landlord can be ordered to commence repairs being 4 weeks after the notice is served.
Further to this if served with a notice for emergency remedial action the local authority will conduct the appropriate work themselves, later recouping the associated costs from the landlord. If such a notice is served to the owner, they will be prevented from issuing their tenants with a section 21 notice for 6 months in an effort to tackle retaliatory evictions.
Finally, landlords could be served with a prohibition order either limiting or preventing occupants from residing within the rental property. This will commonly afford around a month for tenants to find alternate living arrangements, however, these noticed could take effect immediately in severe instances.
What Happens When a House Is Deemed Uninhabitable?
If the occupants of the rental property decide that they wish to take legal action against their landlord and the court finds the property is unfit for human habitation not only could the owner be legally compelled to pay the tenant compensation, but attend to the necessary improvements to the rental. The amount of compensation the tenant could be awarded will be dictated by the potential risk presented to the tenants, alongside any harm the poor conditions may have caused; with the tenant’s legal costs also potentially contributing to the awarded amount.
Exceptions to the Homes Fitness Act
As discussed, the landlord has a legal obligation to attend to matters of repair around the rental property, however there are exemptions that the landlord cannot be held liable for. Commonly this exemption will regard any damage caused by the negligence of the occupants, or any natural events such as storms, floods or fire damage. It is also worth noting that in some cases the landlord may not be able to obtain the appropriate permissions to carry out the work need, usually seen in listen buildings, however in such cases if the landlord is able to demonstrate that they have tried to obtain the necessary permission they will not be held liable.
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