The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill has passed through the House of Commons and will now be scrutinised in the House of Lords, starting later in November. The Bill is likely to become law so below is a summary of the main provisions.
At present there is no legal requirement for landlords to keep or maintain rental properties in a condition fit for habitation. Many will be familiar with a landlords s.11 repairing obligations and the local authorities’ powers under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). However, there is nothing in law which specially addresses fire safety, inadequate heating or poor ventilation which leads to condensation or mould growth or which deals with defects that pre-dated the tenancy or are inherent in bad property design.
When the Bill becomes law, landlords will be subject to broader responsibilities which go beyond s.11 including:
- freedom from damp;
- internal arrangement;
- natural lighting;
- water supply;
- fire safety;
- drainage and sanitary conveniences; and
- facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water.
The Bill aims to give tenants the power to take action where properties are not in a condition fit for habitation. Landlords will be under an implied duty to ensure that rental properties are in a condition fit for human habitation at the time of the grant of the tenancy and kept in that condition throughout the term. Where a landlord fails in this duty tenants will have the right to take landlords to court and apply for an injunction to compel them to carry out works or claim damages for the failure to keep the property in repair.
However, the Bill does propose exemptions to the fit for habitation condition which are:
- a tenant’s failure to use the dwelling in a tenant-like manner; and
- as a result of a natural disaster e.g. a flood.
It has been suggested that the Bill is introducing the HHSRS for tenant use. This is not correct. The HHSRS is only used by local authorities to deal with property standards. The Bill uses the same 29 categories as the HHSRS when assessing property for fitness, but it is not introducing the full HHSRS assessment mechanism. That said, an HHSRS report which makes findings as to the fitness of the property is likely to be important in considering its fitness under the Bill. There is also a key difference in that the HHSRS assesses property based on a notional occupier of the most vulnerable type, usually an elderly person or young child whereas the Bill uses the actual person occupying the property. So there are links between the Bill and the HHSRS but no direct connection.
Amendments to the Bill will no doubt be proposed, and we will have to wait and see if they are adopted. If the Bill is passed, we are likely to see an improvement in rental properties managed by a minority of landlords who currently shirk their responsibilities. The vast majority of landlords will no doubt have nothing to fear.