The new Homes Act: What tenants need to know
Last month, we provided a landlord guide on the new regulations under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2019, outlining how landlords should maintain their property to ensure it meets the requirements upheld by the Homes Act which came into force on March 20th 2019.
To follow up, the Residential Lettings team at Tod Anstee Hancock thought it would be a great opportunity to advise tenants on their rights regarding the new legislation and what it means for them.
In our latest post, we will be giving a guide on what you, as a tenant, need to know.
What is the new legislation covered by the Homes Act?
The Homes Act builds on previous legislation included in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and tenants should be aware that there are no new legal obligations for landlords; the Homes Act simply seeks to ensure that all landlords are meeting their existing legal requirements for safety standards in their rental properties.
The Homes Act does however provide a new means of redress for tenants direct to the courts in the rare case of a landlord not meeting the legal requirements of providing a safe property for the duration of the tenancy. If the court rules that the property you rent is “not fit for human habitation” they can insist the landlord carries out repairs in order to make the property safe and in some instances make the landlord pay compensation to tenants.
Who can use the new Homes Act?
As highlighted in our previous article, the new Homes Act states your landlord must make sure that your rented home is ’fit for human habitation’.
According to the official gov.uk website, this means the property must be safe to live in and free from anything that could cause serious harm to those living there.
This applies to tenants who rent privately, from a housing association, or rent from the local council. The type of housing you live in, for example a bungalow, house or flat, isn’t relevant and you can still use the Homes Act if issues covered by the legislation arise.
The act also doesn’t consider how you pay your rent, the only relevant factor here is that the tenancy agreement contract must be signed on or after 20 March 2019 with a fixed term of less than 7 years. For tenancies already in place before this date, you must wait until 20th March 2020 before you can use the Homes Act.
What kind of problems are covered under “fit for human habitation”?
It’s important to understand exactly what type of problem is covered by the Homes Act when a court decides whether a property is fit for human habitation. For example, common damp or mould growth resulting from condensation which is frequently caused by a lack of ventilation by tenants when using showers, cookers and dryers in small rooms. This kind of damp would not be covered by the Homes Act.
Problems covered under the Homes Act can include the following:
- General condition, layout and stability of the building including hazards
- Major damp (not condensation)
- Lack of natural light and ventilation,
- Issues with water supply and drainage
- Inadequate cooking facilities
What process should tenants follow?
There is a very strict process tenants should follow if they think their property is not fit for human habitation.
- Firstly, tenants should check that the way they pay rent is covered by the Homes Act as outlined earlier in this article.
- Assess objectively whether the particular problem or issue in the property makes your home unfit to live in using the checklist above (this is what the court will ask you to determine).
- If you have not done so already, inform your managing agent or landlord about the problem, request the problem is fixed and allow reasonable time and access for the work to be done.
- If the landlord has not fixed the problem within a reasonable time and the work is not scheduled to be done this is the point where you can employ the Homes Act legislation.
How to use The Homes Act process
Firstly, tenants should make a request for the problem to be fixed, and the landlord has a duty to repair any problems in your home in a reasonable amount of time. The bigger the problem, the more time it may take.
However, if the landlord has taken too long to fix a problem, or in some circumstances has refused, tenants can take their landlord to court under the Homes Act using the following process:
- Write to the landlord again (keeping records of all letters and/or emails) and detail all the times you have previously reported the problem.
- Clarify what needs addressing and why (i.e. what health or safety issue is it causing you?)
- If you still receive no response then you should start the court process by completing Form N1 which can be found on the .gov.uk website.
- Provide as much evidence as possible such as photos, letters from your Doctor and proof of your tenancy agreement.
- If you think you don’t have adequate evidence, you can contact your local council for an independent assessment.
- Submit all evidence with your form and send 3 copies to the local County Court.
- If they believe you have a valid case the court will set a date for a hearing and send paperwork which you should forward to your landlord.
- You must attend the court hearing in person. At the hearing, the court will consider all evidence provided by the tenant and landlord. If the court agrees that the property is unfit for human habitation, they may order the landlord to fix the problem and possibly pay compensation.
- If the court rules in favour of the landlord, you may be required to pay the landlord’s legal costs.
Are there any exceptions?
Although your landlord is responsible for fixing a lot of problems regarding your home, there will be standard clauses in a tenancy agreement to ensure residents take good care of the property.
For example, paying the agreed rent, even if repairs are needed, paying Council Tax or utility bills, or repairing and paying for any damage caused by you, family or friends.
There are also some exceptions tenants need to be aware of before taking the step to seek redress through the courts.
Landlords do not need to:
- Fix problems that have been caused by tenant behaviour, in cases where there may have been irresponsible or illegal behaviour.
- Carry out repairs which require third-party consent that they cannot obtain.
- Fix damage caused by events beyond the landlord’s control, for example, fires, storms or floods
Under these circumstances, you won’t be able to use the Homes Act, but you can still seek help from your local council if you are worried about the condition of your home. They can take action on your behalf, at no cost to you.
Potential court penalties
If a rented property is deemed unfit for human habitation under the act, landlords may be ordered to improve conditions in the property and pay compensation to tenants.
The judge will decide on how much compensation will be given, depending on the problem at hand and any mental or physical health problems it has caused.
If you still think there is a serious health and safety problem at your rented property, you can inform your council at the same time as taking your landlord to court. Other organisations offer advice and support too, such as Shelter and Citizens Advice.
Talk to one of our estate agents
If you would like any further information regarding the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, or would like to enquire about your tenancy agreement, then get in touch with one of our experienced estate agents today.
Talk directly on 01243 531111, or request a call at a more convenient time by completing our quick and simple online enquiry form.
Tod Anstee Hancock helps tenants find rental properties across West Sussex. Browse our properties to rent today.