International – Landlords in England and Wales now have to make sure their rented homes are ‘fit for human habitation’ under legislation rolled out this week. It means renters can sue their landlords over failing to properly maintain their properties if they are deemed unfit to live in. The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018, which came into force on Wednesday, protects tenants against a range of problems which were not covered before.
Landlords can now be taken to court over 29 hazards including inadequate ventilation and light and serious mould and damp caused by structural problems.
Other problems included in the list, which can be found here include asbestos, noise and unsuitable cooking facilities. Courts can either force landlords to make necessary changes or compensate their tenants. But if you want to take your landlord to court, you may have to stump up for legal fees unless you are already eligible for free legal aid. The law applies to tenancies of less than seven years, tenancies renewed for a fixed term and new, secure and introductory tenancies. It will also cover monthly and weekly rolling contracts known as periodic tenancies.
Housing charity Shelter said the new law could help prevent disaster like the Grenfell Tower fire. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter said that the Fitness for Human Habitation Act will give social and private renters the power they need to tackle bad conditions, which is why so many campaigned hard for it to be passed as law.
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With millions of people and families now living in rented homes, we desperately need better protections in place for renters when things go wrong. This new act will help to enforce best practice for landlords and letting agents, act as a deterrent against bad behaviour, and provide a legal lever for renters to pull if their landlord isn’t complying.
To make sure every renter has access to justice, the government must also ensure legal aid is available for fitness cases. Legal aid means that everyone who needs to can afford to challenge the poor or dangerous conditions that wreak havoc on people’s lives.
The law also applies to communal areas where the landlord has an interest, which Shelter says could require fire alarms and sprinklers to be installed hallways.
The law does not apply for problems caused by tenants themselves or acts of God like fires and floods.
Lodgers and some people in temporary accommodation will also not be covered. Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association told Metro.co.uk that too often, tenants living in sub-standard properties are let down by local authorities being unwilling to make effective use of their extensive enforcement powers.
This Act will help ensure that the vast majority of good landlords, who are already keeping their properties up to the standards expected, are not under-cut by less reputable landlords who deliberately shirk their responsibilities.
Over the coming months we will seek to ensure that proper protections remain in place so that landlords are not faced with vexatious claims, nor face punishment for conditions that result from the tenant’s actions.