The Fitness for Human Habitation Act came fully into force on 20 March 2020. Before that date it had only applied to new tenancies; the Act now applies to every tenancy.
What does the Fitness for Human Habitation Act do?
This new Act sets out 29 different areas of compliance for landlords regarding the condition of properties in England. The aim of the Act is to ensure that all residential rented property is fit for human habitation: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018/guide-for-landlords-homes-fitness-for-human-habitation-act-2018. The areas of compliance include, for example, drainage, lavatories, natural light, damp, hot and cold water and facilities for preparing food.
What are the consequences for landlords if they do not comply?
If landlords fail to comply with the new Act, their tenants can now take action directly against them. There are significant penalties for landlords who do not comply. These include being ordered to repay a tenant’s rent, paying compensation to tenants and ultimately unlimited fines. It is therefore vital that landlords do everything they can to comply with the Act, and in particular that they record the steps they have taken to ensure compliance.
Before they let a property, landlords should use a checklist to check the condition of the property before each tenancy begins. Property inventory software, for example https://inventorybase.co.uk/, can make this task far more manageable. The landlord should prepare a detailed inventory not only of the property contents but also of the state and condition of the property, which should be signed by the tenant at the outset of the tenancy agreement. Photographs are also a good idea.
The landlord can also manage the ongoing risk of non compliance with the Fitness for Human Habitation Act by repeating their inspections of the property and preparing a new inventory at regular periods throughout the tenancy. This can help a landlord manage the risk of claims for items such as damp, if an inspection shows that condensation is present, by giving the landlord the chance to act and remedy any problems before a tenant makes a claim under the Act. Landlords should ensure that they put right any problems with the property that are brought to their attention, either by the initial inspection, ongoing inspections and inventories or notification by the tenant, as soon as possible.