Posted by Rachel McCarthy, Paralegal
Legal Update: Landlord repair and revenge evictions – what will be the impact of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018?
Today sees the brand new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 coming into effect in England, which will create even further repair obligations on residential landlords and give tenants yet more protection. This amends the existing Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 requirements, and means that landlords will have to expend far more effort (and money) into maintaining properties for their tenants.
What are the changes brought in by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act?
The main change is to add a whole host of new obligations on landlords, including a requirement to deal with:
- Serious problem with damp
- Not enough natural light
- Unsafe layout
- Difficulty preparing and cooking food, or washing up
- Problems with drainage or lavatories
- Falls associated with baths/showers, stairs, or uneven surfaces
A breach of the Act can be enforced by tenants suing their landlords to make them repair the property. The Act even covers the duty to repair common parts of a building – not just the property let out to tenants. However, landlords will not have to repair damage caused by a tenant or which are the responsibility of a superior landlord.
It should also be noted that any clause in a tenancy agreement or lease imposing a penalty or forfeiture on the tenants for seeking to enforce the obligations under the new Act is void – that loophole is already closed.
But what will this mean in practice?
Landlords can no longer simply suggest that tenants open windows or dry clothes outside to deal with damp – the requirements are now much more stringent. Landlords will have to be much more involved in the maintenance of their property and tenants will acquire further abilities to ensure that their rented property is safe and in good repair.
As yet, the change is too new to really understand the wider impact. Potentially, it could mean that revenge evictions decrease. As mentioned above, any clause triggering a penalty or forfeiture for raising repair concerns is void under the Act.
The most recent publicised example is from Alicia Powell – whose revenge eviction is set out in the BBC newsbeat article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-47613386
The reality of the current property market is that many of the UK population will be renting for years, rather than stepping onto the property ladder. Sadly, for many the above retaliatory eviction story will be very familiar.
One of the key questions regarding the Act in practice will be whether the tenants will have to foot the bill for expert inspections of the property to obtain evidence to sue their landlords, or whether this will simply put more strain on already overstretched local authorities.
Landlords, and letting agents, should urgently review their property portfolios and complaints of disrepair from tenants to nip any potential tenant claims in the bud. Tenants should query the requirements in their tenancy agreement, and whether the repair clauses are truly their responsibility or push these back to landlords under the Act.
The first port of call for each should be the Government guidance on the Act which was published on 6 March 2019 (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018/guide-for-tenants-homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018).
As with any new legislation, we will have to wait and see how the effects pan out in the real world and in Court. Watch this space!