On the 20th December 2018, by way of an early Christmas present for the private rental sector, HMG obtained Royal Assent to the Housing (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, 2018. The Act will come into force on the 20th March 2019. The Act applies to dwellings in England.
Fitness for human habitation was already covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1985, s.10, but this new Act adds to it “prescribed hazards” which, although not yet clearly stated, are likely to refer to the matter listed in schedule 1 of The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005. The Act will apply to all new tenancies for terms less than 7 years coming into being after the 20th March 2019 and this will include replacement tenancies arising from fixed terms that came into being before the commencement date. The legislation will apply to statutory periodic tenancies already in existence at the 20th March 2019 after a further 12 months.
Matters that could soon lead a dwelling to be declared unfit will include from the 20th March 2019 damp and mould growth, excess cold, excess heat, asbestos and manufactured mineral fibres, biocides, carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products, lead, radiation, uncombusted fuel gas, volatile organic compounds, crowding and space, entry by intruders, lighting, noise, domestic hygiene, pests and refuse, food safety (inadequate provisions), personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage, water supply, falls (baths, between levels, level surfaces and stairs), electrical hazards, fire, flames, hot surfaces etc, collision and entrapment, explosions, position and operability of amenities etc, structural collapse and falling elements. However, again, these provisions have been in place in a different though related context for some time, since 2005.
What this new 2018 Act does is introduce fitness for human habitation and its related provisions into all contracts of tenancy in England as an implied term, which means that where the qualifying circumstances arise, tenants can sue landlords for breach of contract, as well as have landlords pursued by authority. There are exceptions to the landlord’s liability, such as damage caused by a tenant’s failure to observe relevant terms of the tenancy agreement (amongst other things).
Landlords would be wise to check their insurance policies to see that the terms include legal cover and that any such cover is sufficient to cater for this development in the law, further details of which will emerge as knowledge of the legislation increases. Those who are in any doubt about the standing of their properties should also consider taking advice in advance of the operative date.