20th May 2019
Concentric's Compliance Director Dawn Bennett discusses the impact of the act at a recent Landlord Seminar:
On the 20th March 2019, we saw quite a significant change passed through law, called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. Due to the fact that the law was raised and passed within an unusually short timescale of just three months, it has caused some landlords confusion over what exactly it means, and what action they need to take to comply.
Here we will talk about the legislation, how it has changed, and what you need to do next.
HHSRS – What is it, exactly?
Health and safety standards for rented homes (HHSRS) is an assessment used by all local authorities to determine a set of health and safety standards in rented properties.
This gives authorities a list of 29 items which have to be of a safe standard, and ensure that tenants are protected from health and safety hazards within their property, and include:
Damp and mould issues
Excess cold or heat
Electrical faults/dangerous electrics
Gas and carbon monoxide
Pest infestations, such as rats or mice
Risk of falls on stairs, floors, or bathrooms
When the council assess the above hazards, they will look for likelihood of harm, seriousness of impact, and additional risk to vulnerable people, such as children and the elderly.
The new legislation, and what it means
As from 20th March 2019, a new Bill was passed through Parliament, called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. This amendment adds a new layer to the previous law, which means that now, tenants can sue landlords if they find that they are not taking the correct responsibility in ensuring that any of the above hazards are present in their rented property.
The newly passed Homes Act applies to all landlords in England (Wales has a separate licencing called ‘Rent Smart Wales’, which means that landlords and agents in Wales have to be licenced under this law). All landlords who are entering into a new tenancy from 20th March 2019 will need to ensure that all of the criteria are met, this includes tenants who are renewing tenancies after this date. However, if a tenant has signed the agreement before this date, they will be required to wait until 20th March 2020 until the Homes Act comes into force for them.
The Act can be enforced at the time of inspection, if the council find that any of the criteria are not met, and that there is a breach which could cause harm to the tenant during the time of their tenancy, or it can be raised as a known issue by the tenant and reported. In this case, it could mean that something that your tenant reports to you that is not fixed within a set timescale, or that causes serious health issues or harm to the tenant, can be taken to court.
Urgency of repair
Something that will be emphasised in the case of flagged issues is urgency of repair. In other words, how sever is the problem, and how soon does it need to be dealt with. If it is an issue which could potentially cause harm to the tenant, then straight away it would be classed as urgent, and would need to be put right immediately. This might be something like a gas leak, an electrical fault or a broken boiler. If it’s unsafe for the tenant to remain in the property, then it really is urgent that the issue is fixed, preferably the same day, or within a 24 hour period.
However, as a landlord, you will be well aware that there can quite often be obstacles. For example, you’re not going to get a plumber out in a hurry over the Christmas holidays. Realistically, there might be times when the repair has to wait for an additional day or two. In cases like that it is crucial that you keep the lines of communication open with your tenants, and advise them if there is a delay. There will be some upset in certain cases, but as long as they are aware of the delay and are assured of when they can expect action, then you’ve done all that you can do.
Of course, it goes without saying that if the issue means that there is danger to life or health, then tenants should be advised of the urgency to vacate the property until the issue is resolved.
Aside from those very urgent repairs, there will also be those which are less urgent. Again keep the tenants informed of progress, and when they can expect the issue to be resolved. There will be some jobs which can feasibly wait for a few days, perhaps a week, or longer. Use your judgement, and ensure that everyone involved is kept updated about progress along the way, including the person who made the report.
If the issue is not your fault
Another thing to bear in mind is something happening to the property which is out of your control. Perhaps the most common of these might be when the tenant causes the damage themselves. In that case, you can refer to your original inventory, which should give detail of the condition of the property and everything in it at the point when the tenant moved in. If it’s something that is obviously the tenants’ fault, then you as the landlord do not have to make the repairs, and can insist that the tenant put it right themselves.
Other exemptions include:
Natural disasters, floods, fires, storm damage
Problems caused by tenants’ own possessions
Where the landlord has been unable to get planning consent – evidence must be provided if this is the case
The tenant is not an individual, for example local authorities, national parks, educational institutions etc.
Penalties for non-compliance
If a home is found to be unfit for human habitation, then as landlord, you will be required by law to put the problems right within a reasonable timescale. Failure to do this will result in the court insisting that the repairs are made and the property be made fit, and in some cases compensation be paid to the tenant. There is no specified limit to the amount of compensation that can be awarded, this is left to the discretion of the judge.
What do landlords need to do next?
Assuming that your properties are properly maintained and kept in good repair, you don’t need to worry. Only properties which are seen to be neglected, of poor repair and/or in need of serious modernisation will be affected. Landlords who buy properties in poor condition should really be taking action to put these issues right before habitation regardless of the new laws, and the legislation is only concerned with those few landlords who neglect to do this.