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Making Your Rental Property Fit For Human Habitation
Making your rental property fit for human habitation is one of the foremost concerns of a landlord. Naturally upon the signing of the tenancy agreement landlords take on a duty of care towards their tenants, ensuring that they are able to rent a safe hazard free environment. But with the implementation of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act private renters have been empowered to take actions against landlords to neglect to maintain their rental properties, leading to disastrous breaches of safety regulations.
What Is Fit For Human Habitation?
Implemented by the UK government in March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act hold landlords far more accountable for the condition in which they let out their rental opportunities to tenants. Similarly to an energy performance certificate, these regulations must be adhered to by the property owner before the opportunity is presented to new aspiring tenants. Whilst certainly not common by any means, there are a minority of landlords that neglect to maintain their rental properties, ensuring their tenants have a safe environment to call their new home.
The regulations dictate that landlords must endeavour to ensure that any rental property they let out first meets a strict minimum standard of human habitability. If the landlord fails to adhere to these standards, the affected tenants would be empowered to present the case to the courts, as the property owner would be neglecting their legal obligations, entitling them to significant amounts of compensation.
What Makes a House Unfit For Human Habitation?
When evaluating if a rental property is fit for human habitation, the Housing Health and Safety regulations are often referred to. More commonly known as HHSRS, the standards are employed by the council to assess the suitability of a rental property for tenants. As can be expected if the rental property is found to be structurally unsound, with damp and mould contributing towards instability the rental will be deemed uninhabitable. Other common shortfalls for unsafe properties comprise a lack a natural light, an unsafe floor plan and layout, or insufficient ventilation, then the landlord will be prevented from letting the property out to tenants. Additionally, if further issues are found with the drainage of a property, the supply of hot and cold water alongside ample facilities for the tenant to prepare food the property will be deemed uninhabitable by the local authority.
The housing health and safety rating system has been found to be an effective measure implemented by the local council to identify potential hazards within a rental property. Each potential hindrance to a tenant’s safety that is found in the rental will contribute to the property’s overall score that determines is habitability. It is the duty of a landlord to ensure that the rental property is free from the following hazards detailed by the HHSRS:
- Excessive hot or cold temperatures
- Growth of mould or damp
- Fuel, gas or other compounds that can have volatile reactions
- Carbon monoxide
- Overall security of the property
- Ample waste disposal methods
- Hygiene and food safety
- No trip hazards
- Electrical hazards
- Fire safety
- Structural elements of the property
A property will be found to be unfit for human habitation if significant failures are found with one or more of the above areas. With this being said it is important to remember that homes for habitation and the HHSRS are independent from one another, however landlords are able to use these guidelines.
What Happens When a Property Is Deemed Uninhabitable?
If a tenant deems a rental property to be unfit for human habitation and takes this matter to the courts the repercussions for the landlord can be severe. If they are found to be in violation of the regulations not only can the landlord be ordered to carry out extensive improvements to the property, but pay large amounts in compensation to the tenant , but more on that later.
The Tenant’s Obligation
It is essential to note that the responsibility for repairs and maintenance of the rental property throughout the fixed period of the tenancy does not exclusively lye with the landlord. There are specific circumstances under which the occupants of the rental property are solely responsible for the maintenance of the property and therefore in regards to these aspects, cannot hold the landlord legally accountable. In the event of a natural occurrence such as severe weather, flooding or fires, the landlord will not be held accountable. It goes without saying, but he landlord is also not considered liable for any damages caused by the misconduct or neglect of the residents of the rental property. As can be expected the associated costs of such repair work would be deducted from any taken tenancy deposits, with the guarantor being liable for any costs that exceed this amount, however this may not be applicable for every tenancy. Additionally, if an issue has been brought to the attention of the property owner but despite taking steps to address the defect has been unable to obtain planning permission or the necessary authority from freeholders or the local council.
Not only are the tenants of the rental property legally obliged to conduct minor repairs and maintenance throughout the property, encompassing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, changing light bulbs and cleaning communal areas; but must also conduct themselves in what is referred to as a “tenant like manner” over the course of the agreed upon fixed period. This somewhat vague term holds tenants increasingly accountable for the condition in which the rental property is returned stating that they must not damage the accommodation “wilfully or negligently” whilst ensuring that occupants “take proper care of the place.” It is worth mentioning that these terms are derived from a court ruling by a Lord denning who elaborated stating that, “if the house falls into disrepair through fair wear and tear or lapse of time or for any reason not caused by him (the occupants), the tenant is not liable to repair it.”
Section 11 of the Landlord and tenant Act details that the owner of the rental property must be afforded ample time for any issues to be addressed. The specific period of time that should be allowed before any remedial work is conducted by the landlord is largely dependent on the scale of the necessary work and the significance of the defect with the property. However, the legal duty of the landlord to address any defects with the structure or interior of the rental property hinges on the tenant’s obligation to inform the landlord of any amount of unfitness within the accommodation. The tenant also bears an obligation to provide the landlord and those conducting the remedial work access to the property in order for the issues to be rectified in a time efficient and practical manner. Typically the landlord will be required to provide the residents with at least 24 hours’ notice before they intend to enter the rental property. Whilst the tenant is able to reject this access, each appeal from the landlord will be in writing showing that they have made sufficient efforts to make the property fit for habitation, yet they were halted by the tenant.
What Can a Tenant Do if Their Property Is Unfit For Habitation?
If a tenant has moved into a rental property that they believe is unfit for human habitation, or if the property has been demonstrated to be not reasonably suitable for occupation, the residents may be able to evoke legal proceedings against the landlord. As the landlord would be considered to be in breach of the tenancy agreement as they have neglected to maintain the rental property, the tenants would be able to obtain an order for specific performance, legally compelling the property owner to carry out the necessary remedial work. Ultimately, the courts will make the overruling decision as to where the landlord should conduct the repair work on the rental property; however it is worth noting that the courts will grant this irrespective of if the tenant is also in violation of the agreed terms that comprise the tenancy. Therefore, if the tenant has refused to pay rent until this work has been conducted by the landlord, whilst extremely ill advised, this will not have an influence on the courts s decision to issue the landlord with the order for specific performance.
Perhaps a more practical solution that withholding due rental payments and accumulating arrears would be to try and obtain a declaration from the courts that would permit the essential works to be completed by the tenants, with the associated costs being deducted from future rental fees.
If the damage to the property is extensive and is found to be a regular interference to the residents of the accommodation, the tenants may be able to gain an interlocutory injunction against the landlord. Whilst these are often presented to the courts in a far faster manner, if the tenant has any outstanding rental payments, or has otherwise breached the terms of the tenancy agreement they may face difficult in getting their desired outcome. If however, the tenant wishes to pursue this route it is essential that they are able to provide any supporting evidence alongside their claim. The residents of the rental property should be able to detail the significance of the issues, the potential for this to exacerbate the further deterioration of the property and become a hazard to the occupant’s safety. The tenants must also be able to show that they not only have the necessary funds for the remedial work, should the injunction be revoked, but that that the landlords has proved reluctant to address these historical issues to the distress of the occupants.
Providing that the courts find the landlord to be in breach of the tenancy agreement, the tenants of the appropriate rental property could be awarded compensation for any “loss of enjoyment”, discomfort, injury or inconvenience endured during the tenancy. The occupants of the rental property could also be entitled to “special damages”, this form of compensation will financially reconcile the tenants for the cost of any repair work they carried out, any of their belongings that were damaged by the neglect to the property and the costs of any alternate accommodation. When awarding compensation to the tenant the courts will evaluate the amount that should be given with regards to the severity of the properties condition, the effects this had on the tenants and the amount of time this living environment was endured by the occupants of the rental.
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