The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act – Are you prepared?
From March 2020, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 will change to cover not only new tenancies or periodic tenancies that renewed after March 2019, but all existing statutory periodic tenancies. That means there are only five weeks left to ensure that you are compliant. Are you prepared?
What do the changes mean for you?
If you are a landlord, come March 2020 you will have a legal obligation to ensure that your rented properties, whether it be a house, flat or shared dwelling are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm to its occupants. If a court finds evidence that you have failed to comply with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, you could be ordered to compensate for damages and even be issued a banning order. Yet, some Housing Associations and Social Landlords are still not compliant and are exposing themselves to legal proceedings.
Take for instance the recent reports into a block of flats in Barnet. The last original block on a West Hendon Estate filled with new-builds, Marsh Drive has been left in a state of disrepair to where local news outlets have begun to monitor the situation.
Although the block is consigned to demolition, residents are still living within the premises despite its appalling conditions, which has seen its demolition date moved forward from October 2021, to October 2020.
Complaints from tenants range from issues including black mould growing within their flat, to struggling to keep their homes warm and even flooding within communal areas. Most shockingly, however, it was reported that one tenant even claimed that their child had been bitten on the eye by a cockroach – part of an infestation within the building.
Whilst most residents within the block are on non-secure tenancies, which means they are not protected by the Landlord and Tenants Act 1954, concerns have been raised in the media regarding the building’s fitness for human habitation and whether the tenants should be given the same rights as those in secure tenancies.
At least one case of a home being deemed unfit for human habitation has been reported since the Act came into power. Landlord Jaspal Singh, appeared before magistrates back in September 2019 over the condition of a home he let, which contained thick green mould and a toilet that had to be flushed using a bucket of water.
Singh claimed that these issues were not as a result of his negligence, but rather that he was never made aware of the problems by the tenant. Ultimately, Singh was handed a fine of £10,000 and ordered to pay court costs of over £5,000 – the issues have now been resolved.
Whilst this is one of only a few cases to have been reported so far, the changes coming in March 2020 could lead to many claims as the Act will then apply to all tenancies.
So what should landlords and housing associations do to ensure that they are compliant with the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act by March?
Most housing associations and social landlords should ideally already be compliant with the regulations, with no need for them to make any immediate changes to the way that they operate.
However, for peace of mind, we have put together five key steps for you to mark yourself against to ensure that you are compliant:
- Understand the Act. As a landlord or Housing Association, it is important to fully understand the Homes Act to ensure that you stay compliant. Training your staff on the Act is the first step to achieving total compliance for your organisation. For more information, visit our page on Homes Act training here.
- Maintain regular communications with your tenants. Communication helps build a relationship between yourself and the tenant. Try setting up community days in high claim areas of your Housing Association in which tenants can raise questions. Ensure to include managerial staff as well as field staff to show that you care and are willing. Ultimately, this will make reporting any issues easier and scheduling any required works.
- Keep on top of the condition of your housing stock. Regular stock condition surveys will give you a better understanding of any underlying issues with properties that tenants may not be able to make you aware of. See why Inside Housing think that Stock Condition Surveys are important here.
- Rectify any damage or issues as soon as you are made aware. As soon as you are able to do so, you should rectify any issues that you are made aware of. The longer you wait, the worse the issue will get and the bigger the fine/outcome from the courts if the issue is taken further. Having an up to date repairs logging system can help collate calls, letters and emails and keep you on top of reported issues in order to fix them.
- Seek legal advice. If there are any issues that you believe are out of your control or that have been caused by tenant behaviour, you should seek the help of a solicitor. Do this as soon as you are aware of the issues to ensure that you are covered in the event of a tenant taking you to court.
If you are not in a compliant position, Pennington Choices can help…
Pennington Choices are surveying and consultancy expert. We have 20 years of experience in helping housing associations and social landlords stay compliant in an ever-changing housing landscape.
If you would like training on the Act, we offer bespoke in-house sessions, tailored to meet your businesses specific needs. Additionally, if you have concerns over the compliance of your housing stock, we offer a Fitness for Human Habitation audit. Our auditors perform a thorough assessment of a property and its relevant documents. Following this, a report will be produced detailing whether the property is compliant with the FFHH Act and offering guidance.