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Fitness for Human Habitation Act 101: Everything You Need To Know

On the 20th March 2019, the government introduced the Fitness for Human Habitation Act. This law, which is also known as the Homes Act, essentially ensures that all rental properties are deemed safe.

While the majority of landlords will only rent out properties that are safe, the new law protects tenants should their landlord fail to keep them safe.

Who does the act apply to?

The Fitness for Human Habitation Act is applicable to all social or private rental properties. This means landlords are responsible for adhering to the act, and tenants can take action using the act if their landlord doesn’t keep to the new laws.

Tenants who signed a tenancy agreement from 20th March 2019 will be able to use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act straight away if they feel their rental property is not safe.

However, tenants who signed a tenancy agreement before the 20th March 2019 won’t be able to use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act. If you have a secure or assured tenancy, statutory tenancy or a private periodic tenancy, you will be able to use the act from the 20th March 2020. However, if the tenancy is a fixed term contract that began before the 20th March 2019, then tenants will have to wait until the end of the tenancy.

That’s not to say that any problems tenants face with their rental property, who signed their tenancy before the 20th March this year, cannot be dealt with, as you can still complain to your letting agent or local council about taking action.

Exceptions to the rule

While tenants are entitled to a home that’s safe and fit for habitation, there are some exceptions where your landlord wouldn’t be responsible.

One instance is if the tenant is responsible for the reason why a property is no longer fit for habitation. This could be due to damage caused by the tenant or through illegal activity. Where this is the case, the tenant will actually be the one responsible for putting the problem right.

When it comes to possessions, the landlord is only responsible for possessions that are included in the inventory at the start of the tenancy, and not the tenant’s own possessions.

Landlords may also need to seek permission from all parties before taking action on making a rental property fit for habitation. For example, in the case of flats, landlords will have to get permission from the building owners, and even the council, before they can make certain changes to a property.

Lastly, landlords are not held accountable for acts of God, such as fires, storms and floods, as these are beyond a landlord’s control.

What is considered a problem under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act?

There are several aspects which could make a property no longer fit for human habitation.

These include if a building is structurally unstable, or problems such as damp, lack of ventilation, carbon monoxide, overcrowding, and problems with drainage and the supply of hot and cold water.

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and tenants should check if a potential problem is listed in the Fitness for Human Habitation Act or in the tenancy agreement.

There are also a number of places for tenants to get more help, including Citizens Advice, Shelter, the local council or check Generation Rent’s website for local tenants’ rights groups.

What to do if you think your rental property is unfit for habitation

If you find any of the problems listed here within your rental property, the first step is to notify your landlord. Once your landlord is aware of the problem, you should allow a reasonable length of time for them to rectify the problem, which is dependent on the scale of the problem.

However, if your landlord fails to fix the problem in a reasonable length of time or at all, then you can use the Fitness for Human Habitation Act.

Using the Fitness for Human Habitation Act

Before using the Fitness for Human Habitation Act, tenants should contact their landlord a second time to notify them of the problem. This is because if it is taken to court, tenants have to show they tried to sort the problem with their landlord.

In this second piece of contact, tenants need to highlight the problem, when they first reported it to the landlord, and any consequential problems that have resulted due to the rental property not being fit for habitation. If your landlord still fails to put the problem right, then the next step is court.

If a case gets taken to court, then evidence will be required. This includes copies of contact made between the tenant and landlord, or even a letting agent and local council regarding the problem.

Tenants will also need photographic evidence, a doctor’s note if it has had an impact on their health, receipts of anything that has had to be replaced, a copy of the tenancy agreement or proof that rent is being paid to the landlord.

Winning or losing the court case

If a landlord is found to have not provided its tenant with a home fit for habitation, the courts will either enforce the landlord to undertake the work to make the rental property habitable or make the landlord pay compensation to the tenants.

The compensation amount will be based on the length of time the rental property was deemed unfit for human habitation, the seriousness of the problem and the impact this has had on the tenant.

If a tenant loses their case, then they will have to pay the legal costs associated with taking the case to court.

It’s worth reiterating that if a tenant is concerned the property they’re renting is not fit for habitation, they can also consult with the local council as they can take action on a tenant’s behalf for free.

Landlords, if you want to ensure your rental property meets the Fit for Human Habitation Act, make sure you have read the government’s ‘How to rent’ guide.

We also have a range of packages available to make letting your property a breeze. Our Good Landlord package includes Property Licence Monitoring which means you can ensure your rental property always remains compliant.

Tenants, if you’re on the lookout for your next home, start your search here.

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