The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (the “Act”) is a prime example of a piece of legislation which has been in the pipeline for some time however, it would appear that the tragic circumstances of the Grenfell Tower disaster has acted as a catalyst for the bill’s parliamentary progression which consequently received the Royal Assent on 20 December 2018 and comes into force on 20 March 2019.
What does the Act say and what are the implications for Landlords and Tenants?
It is important to note that the Act applies to property conditions for tenants in both the public and private rented sector. The Act implies a covenant into all applicable leases (defined within the Act) that the Property being let is to be:
“(a) Fit for human habitation at the time the lease is granted or otherwise created or, if later, at the beginning of the term of the lease; and
(b)Will remain fit for human habitation during the terms of the lease.”
The overarching principle of the Act is to improve the health and safety standard in rented properties by placing an obligation on landlords to keep their properties “Fit for Human Habitation”. The Act also provides tenants with explicit recourse to take legal action where either private or social landlords breach the implied covenant.
The Act seeks to clarify, refresh and revive s.10 of The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 by updating the concept of “fitness”; the previous factors (facilities for cooking, etc) were last revisited in the 1950s and the Act updates the relevant factors to include the modern approach to “fitness” in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (Pt.1, Housing Act 2004).
How will the Act improve the current legal position for Landlords and Tenants?
Section 9A (5) of the Act states that the Court will have the power to order specific performance in circumstances where it is determined that a home is not fit for human habitation for one or more reasons, the legal recourse is made clear for both landlords and tenants.
The significance of this provision cannot be undermined. The current process for private tenants is to seek redress through Environmental Health Teams who use the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to identify hazards. It will not come as a surprise for readers to learn that this is a public service which cannot currently keep up with its rising demand. The ability for tenants to initiate proceedings without needing to obtain an Improvement Notice, Emergency Prohibition Orders or Hazard Awareness Notices will inevitably reduce the reliance on these public sector teams, whilst also cutting out a sometimes unnecessary middleman in applicable circumstances.
The section arguably provides an even bigger breakthrough for social tenants. The Act gives these tenants the opportunity to take matters into their own hands should the local authority/housing association fail to act following the relevant internal procedure. If we take Grenfell Tower as an example, it is widely documented that the tenants had repeatedly communicated safety concerns but as their complaints are often directed to the same body that is responsible for rectifying the breaches, inevitably they felt once these issues had been raised they had no further options in terms of resolution.
Section 9A(6) of the Act confirms to Landlords and Tenants alike that in circumstances where a Landlord or Lessor’s interest in a home includes any of the common parts of the building, their duties in respect of “fitness for human habitation” extends to these parts. Again, many of the issues complained of by the Grenfell residents concerned communal areas, particularly in relation to fire safety and therefore this section is going to represent both clarity for Landlords seeking to ascertain their responsibilities and piece of mind for tenants.
Whilst it was widely recognised that the “fitness for human habitation” provision and the way in which it could be enforced needed to be refined and clarified, it would seem that the Grenfell tragedy has provided a reactive platform for this to occur. Although, there is still a long way to go in the inquiry itself, it is certainly clear that the lessons learnt from Grenfell are already permeating through housing law reform such as The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018.
If you would like further advice, please contact the Residential Leasehold team.