Landlords and tenants enter into a contract together with hopes of a mutually beneficial and harmonious relationship. Each hope to get what they want and both envision disputes and confrontation to be at a minimum or ideally non-existent. The unfortunate thing about this is most of the time life is not so simple and care free, and when problems arise blame can be passed around like an old deflated football.
In a case recently brought to our property team here at Lisa’s Law a landlord found herself in a sticky situation. She wanted to get builders into her property to do some maintenance work and make some structural improvements. This may sound like something her tenant would be pleased with, seeing as the general idea is to improve the quality of the property, but the current tenant took issue with the plans.
The tenant’s problem was that he did not want his landlord and a team of builders coming into his home without being there himself. He would have to take time off work to oversee the builders and felt that he should be compensated for time spent and money lost by his landlord.
A recent change in the law means that the tenant does hold the right to such a claim on the basis of the landlord providing poor conditions in the property that made the building works necessary in the first place, however the landlord has expressed the belief that the tenant is deliberately delaying the work in order to get some kind of compensation.
What is this new law that has been changed?
The new law that we are referring to was brought in on 20 March 2019 and is called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2019. Its purpose is to ensure that all rental properties, be they social or private property, is cleared as being safe for people to occupy. The landlords of these properties are the ones responsible for meeting the standards demanded by these new rules; tenants can take their landlords to court if they fail to put things right.
What makes a property unfit for human habitation?
The list below are some of the specific things that would be taken into consideration when judging if a property is fit to occupy or not:
- the building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- the building is unstable
- there’s a serious problem with damp
- it has an unsafe layout
- there’s not enough natural light
- there’s not enough ventilation
- there is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- there are problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- it’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
- or any of the 29 hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005
This rule can only be cited with regards to properties that tenants have contracted into either on or after 20 March 2019, when the law was bought in. However, that is not to say that people who signed an agreement before this date must suffer in silence. They of course have the right to a habitable home as well but will have to go through their letting agent or local council beforehand (meaning action can be only taken by local council instead of tenants themselves).
In the case of the dispute mentioned above, there are a few things to consider. For instance, if we look at the situation from the position of the tenant we must evaluate whether or not it is in fact their issue as opposed to the landlords.
Also, the landlord will not be held accountable if the property is deemed inhospitable due to the following:
- the problem is caused by tenant behaviour
- the problem is caused by events like fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control (sometimes called ‘acts of God’)
- the problem is caused by the tenants’ own possessions
- the landlord hasn’t been able to get consent e.g. planning permission, permission from freeholders etc. There must be evidence of reasonable efforts to gain permission
- the tenant is not an individual, e.g. local authorities, national parks, housing associations, educational institutions
However, if a substantial issue went unchecked, which was not the fault of the tenant, it would fall to the landlord to sort it out. Any delays may mean the landlord finding themselves in breach of this new rule and subject to consequences.
It is much better for landlords to stay on top of these issues before they get too far out of hand. A smart thing to do would be to schedule regular maintenance check-ups at a time convenient for both the landlord and the tenant. This was any issues can be inspected and repaired as and when they occur.
It is also advised that landlords should always keep comprehensive evidence of where they’ve tried to fix problems, such as contact history with builders and tenants to prove that they did do their best to make sure the property is ‘fit for human habitation’.
In the case of a landlord repeatedly being denied entry to their own property by a tenant, the landlord can apply for a court order to gain access to the home legally.
If you want to know more about this new law, or if you need legal advice of your own please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 7928 0276 or email in to firstname.lastname@example.org