Landlords Must Ensure Fitness for Human Habitation or Face Claims for Compensation

Landlords Must Ensure Fitness for Human Habitation or Face Claims for Compensation

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) came into force on 20 March 2019. The Act does not create any new obligations for landlords, but it does give social and private tenants a right of redress for breaches through the civil Courts, which can include a currently unspecified compensation award. It is vital that landlords are aware of their potential exposure to such claims.

Where Does the Act Apply?

  • Social and private sectors
  • Tenancies shorter than 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019
  • Tenancies longer than 7 years that are granted on or after 20 March 2019 that can be terminated by the landlord within 7 years
  • Tenancies that are renewed on or after 20 March 2019
  • All periodic tenancies after 20 March 2020

What is ‘Fitness for Human Habitation’?

The requirement that a property must be fit for human habitation is not new and has always been required by section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. In deciding whether a claim from a tenant has merit, the Courts will determine whether a property is so far defective in one or more of the following matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition:-

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

Landlords should therefore make sure that the property is free of hazards which are so serious that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.

Remedies Available to Tenants

Most landlords will already comply with the long-standing requirement that the property they are renting out is fit for habitation. A tenant can now challenge this and bring a claim for breach of contract, seeking an Order from the Court requiring the landlord to rectify the problem. Tenants can also seek compensation for damage caused to them by being subjected to a property in such a condition.

Currently the amount of compensation that can be awarded is not specified or limited, and so there is potential for tenants to test out this new legislation with some large claims. It should be remembered that the tenant’s legal costs may also be awarded against a landlord found to be at fault.

Defending a Claim

A landlord will be able to argue that they should not be required to remedy unfitness in the following circumstances:-

  • When the hazard or unfitness is caused by ‘Acts of God’ that are beyond the landlord’s control, for example floods, fire and exceptional weather.
  • When the hazard or problem has been caused by the tenant or something they have brought onto the property themselves.
  • When the landlord has not been able to obtain consent for rectification and can give evidence that reasonable efforts have been made to do so. For example, obtaining planning permission or permission from freeholders.
  • The Act does not cover people who have ‘licences to occupy’ instead of tenancy agreements, for example lodgers.

Avoiding a Claim

The best defence to any such claims is to ensure that all property is fit for habitation and maintained to a good standard.

The landlord is responsible from the time that they are made aware of the hazard by the tenant. In respect of hazards in common areas of a group of let properties, the landlord is immediately liable as soon as the hazard occurs.

The landlord has a reasonable amount of time to deal with the hazard, and what is a ‘reasonable amount of time’ depends upon the circumstances. Active steps should be taken by the landlord and all correspondence on the matter should be documented in case the landlord needs to demonstrate to the Court.

The landlord should give at least 24 hours’ written notice to the tenants that they intend to rectify a problem, and the visit should be made within ‘reasonable’ hours. In an emergency the landlord may be
entitled to enter the property on shorter notice. If a tenant will not give access, landlords should seek legal advice and keep a record of all attempts they have made to contact the tenant.

Gareth Brazier specialises in Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution, and can assist where such problems have arisen. He can be contacted at gpb@beechamfisher.co.uk or on 01702 348 384.

To minimise the risk of such problems arising, Frances White can offer assistance to landlords and tenants in the negotiation of their leases. She can be contacted at fw@beechamfisher.co.uk or on 01702 348 384.

Nothing in this publication should be regarded by any person as advice or in the nature of advice: it should not be relied on; and the author assumes no liability whatsoever to any person.

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Kathryn Pavitt

Paralegal

*Kathryn is currently on maternity leave but please contact us and another fee earner will be happy to assist you until her return to the office*

Kathryn is an affiliate member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and is a qualified Residential Conveyancing Paralegal. Since joining the firm in 2009 as a secretary, she has attained these qualifications whilst providing support to the Conveyancing and Probate departments, with the ultimate aim of qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive.

Kathryn is a mother to a young child and in her spare time she enjoys cooking and spending time with friends and family.

Val Nunn

Paralegal

Val has more than 30 years’ experience working in legal departments, with 25 spent as secretary then PA to Margaret Ridley.

More recently, Val has run her own body of matrimonial cases and following Margaret’s retirement as a partner, continues in this role and also as PA to Peter Fisher and Debbie Stanton.

She has extensive experience of dealing with all aspects of family matters and of assisting with high value and complex financial issues.

As well as her work, Val enjoys spending time with her family, football as a supporter of both Arsenal and Southend United, reading, entertaining and dining out.

Gareth Brazier LLB (Hons)

Associate Solicitor

Gareth qualified as a Solicitor in 2012 and has many years of civil litigation experience, having previously worked in the City of London advising major insurers on a range of issues including road traffic accidents, industrial accidents and the defence of fraudulent claims. He has experience of handling serious and complex claims as well as acting for individuals and businesses alike.

Gareth provides a detailed and thorough service for private and business clients in a wide range of disputes. He always seeks innovative and cost effective solutions for clients whenever possible, but where agreement or mediation is not possible his robust approach to litigation can secure the right outcome.

Gareth has four young children, and when not enjoying time with family he spends time on outdoor pursuits such as running, hiking and clay pigeon shooting.

Peter Fisher FRSA

Solicitor / Consultant

Peter qualified as a solicitor in 1969 and had been with the firm throughout his professional life, becoming a partner in 1971 and senior partner in 1994. Peter retired from Partnership in 2015 to become a consultant, and is pleased to take on new work and still has a significant caseload.

Peter’s speciality is family law and he is a member of Resolution (The Solicitors’ Family Law Association). He is very experienced in dealing with complex matrimonial cases, whether these involve structuring financial settlements or handling sensitive child issues. A number of his cases have been published in law reports, including a case which has stood the test of time as the benchmark for unreasonable behaviour as a ground for divorce.

Besides sitting for a number of years as a Deputy District Judge, Peter is also experienced in the preparation of wills and lasting Powers of Attorney.

Peter and his wife have three adult children and four grandchildren. For more than twenty five years Peter was a governor of Thorpe Hall School, a local independent school. A life-long Anglican, he has been much involved with the affairs of the Church of England and is a churchwarden of the Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Leigh on Sea. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a keen photographer. He enjoys walking in the UK and abroad, and aged over 65 years he completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks in a very respectable time. He has also devised and walked a coast to coast from Harwich to the Bristol Channel and an up-England trek from the English Channel to Lake Windermere.

Frances White LLB (Hons)

Partner / Solicitor

Frances qualified as a solicitor in 1978, having trained with the firm’s founder and former senior partner, Mervyn Beecham. She became a partner in 1979 and has worked with the practice ever since.

A member of Avenue Baptist Church for over 45 years, Frances continues to undertake legal work for various local churches and the community. She was previously a member of the management committee which established the YMCA hostel in Southend.

Frances has a Bachelor of Laws Degree, with upper second class honours, from the University of Newcastle. She was also awarded honours on passing her final solicitor’s examinations with four distinctions.

She is a member of The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). Also the Law Society’s Property Section and Private Client Section, which are representative associations for members.

Frances enjoys gardening, baking, the theatre and many types of music. She has no children but has recently become a great aunt three times over!

Debbie Stanton LLB (Hons)

Partner / Solicitor

Debbie qualified as a solicitor in 2004 since when she has specialised in Family Law with a particular interest in resolving financial aspects within divorce/co-habitation/ civil partnerships and disputes involving children. Debbie joined the firm in May 2010 and was brought into Partnership in November 2011.

As a member of Resolution, Debbie is committed to providing a personal, non-confrontational and supportive service.

Debbie’s outside interests include interior design, gardening, reading and socialising with family and friends.

Since January 2016 Debbie has been a trustee for HARP, an established charity which is committed to eradicating homelessness in Southend. As part of her role as Trustee, Debbie attends regular monthly meetings which deal with the general day to day running of the charity.