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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Friday 4 January 2019

Your Rented Home Unfit To Live In? New Laws Coming Your Way

Do you have a tenancy agreement for less then 7 years or a weekly, monthly or yearly tenancy? Then your landlord is stuck with having to maintain the structure and exterior and installations for the supply of water, heating and sanitation. They can't get out of it by suggesting otherwise in the tenancy agreement.

But what about putting and keeping the premises in a condition that makes it fit for human habitation. In practice, there's now no implied legal obligation for them to do this. The tenancy agreement may say they must and, if it does, that's another matter. It if really says so then I will eat my law books.

So the structure and exterior are OK. The water, heating and sanitation are OK. But the premises are infested by mice and rats or, because of some other factors, no human being should reasonably be expected to live there. At the moment, your best bet would be to try and persuade the council to take action against the landlord to improve or condemn the premises. That won't work if the council is your actual landlord as they can't take enforcement action against themselves. A fast and effective remedy and the ability to claim compensation from the landlord might well be impossible, whether the landlord is the council, a housing association or a private individual or company.

Cue the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 which comes into force on 20 March 2019. It applies to England. Wales already has similar laws in operation. 

The new Act implies into tenancy agreements a promise by the landlord that the premises are fit for human habitation and will remain so throughout the lease. Anything stated in the tenancy agreement or verbally by a deceiving landlord isn't worth the paper it is written on or the spittle it is spoken with. And if the premises aren't fit as required then the tenant can take court proceedings (in the county court or, in very serious cases indeed, in the High Court) to compel the landlord to make the premises fit and for damages. Even legal aid would be available for the compulsion bit if there is a serious risk to health or you should be able to find a solicitor willing to take the case on a 'no win, no fee' basis.

The Act will not immediately apply to every tenancy. But it will apply to every new tenancy for a fixed period of less than seven years granted on or after 20 March 2019; to every tenancy which before 20 March 2019 was for a fixed period of less than seven years and after then becomes what is known as a periodic tenancy (say a weekly, monthly or yearly tenancy); and as from 20 March 2020 to every periodic tenancy then in existence. Geddit?!

Where the premises are in a block and there are common parts such as staircase or say a roof which is in the ownership of the landlord then they too will come into the reckoning if they lead to the premises being unfit.

It is important that the landlord is notified about the condition of the premises before complaint is made that they are in breach of their obligations.

Plenty more on the wars between landlord and tenant in my book Breaking Law. No, I am not a landlord.