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Tenants given power to sue landlords over unfit living conditions

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Alice Sanderson, February 18, 2019

A new law coming into effect in March will give tenants the power to sue their landlords for unfit and unsafe conditions in their home.

Under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act tenants will be able to take legal action if basic housing standards are not met.

Currently, according to homeless charity Shelter, there are around 2.5 million people living in rented homes with hazards that pose a serious risk to health and safety, the equivalent of almost one million homes.

In response to the Bill, Shelter said: “Crucially, the Bill will help private and social renter's voices to be heard, by giving them the right to take their landlord to court over unfit and unsafe conditions … in their home.”

“The Bill could help to prevent another tragedy like the Grenfell tower fire. This was the starkest reminder of the dangers of unsafe accommodation.”

What is the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act?

The Act, which comes into effect on 20th March 2019, will mean landlords must make sure their properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning and throughout a tenancy.

For the first time, this legislation will also cover defective design such as lack of ventilation, and infestations of vermin and insects, rather than just disrepair.

Tenants who have been in a property less than seven years, (or who have secured, introductory or assured tenancies for a fixed term of 7 years or more) will now have the right to take their landlord to court if they fail to sort out problems.

The following issues are covered by the act:

  • Repair
  • Stability
  • Freedom from damp
  • Internal arrangement
  • Natural lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Water supply
  • Drainage and sanitary conveniences
  • Facilities for the preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water

Tenant rights

The timescale to complete any work before tenants can take action will depend on the severity of the issue.

Landlord associations recommend that issues should be resolved within 24 hours if there is ‘significant risk of danger to the health, safety or security of a tenant’.

Problems that ‘materially affect the comfort or convenience of tenants’ must be resolved within three working days, and less urgent repairs can be resolved in 28 days.

If the tenant is successful in pursuing legal action, the court will then grant an injunction against the landlord to force them to carry out the work or compensate the tenant.

What is the law currently?

The new law amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which made it the responsibility of local authorities to investigate poor living conditions.

But with local authorities stretched to the limit, private renters have often been left to fend for themselves, and as a result they are left with substandard and unsafe accommodation.

According to research by Citizens Advice, 1.85 million tenant households have had issues and repairs that needed resolving but were not done so in the recommended timescales during the past four years.

The new law will take the responsibility away from local authorities, and help tenants take action if repairs are not carried out within the timescales.

Response

The chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, said: “The Fitness for Human Habitation Act will give all types of renters the power they need to tackle bad conditions – which is why Shelter campaigned hard for it to be passed as law.

“With more and more families renting privately, we desperately need more protections and security for renters.

“The act will help enforce best practice for landlords and agents, act as a deterrent for bad behaviour, and provide a legal lever for renters to pull if their landlord isn’t complying.”

Minister for housing and homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, said the new law is a 'further step to ensure that tenants have the decent homes they deserve'.

Andrew Cullwick, spokesperson for First4Lawyers, said: “This legislation is long overdue. Too many tenants have been left to deal with the consequences of the actions of rogue landlords. Leaving the power to local authorities meant nothing was done, and we hope that the change in law will mean that tenant households are no longer forced to live in houses that are not fit for human habitation due to the failure of their landlords to act.”