The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into effect on 20 March 2019, and from the 20 March 2020 will apply to all periodic tenancies. While the Act doesn’t impose any new obligations on landlords, it does strengthen tenants’ means of redress.
So what does the Act mean for social housing organisations, and what action should be taken?
The Act widens the types of tenancies under which tenants can seek action or compensation through the courts for issues with their properties which make them unfit for human habitation.
The act applies to the following tenancies:
If a tenant reports an issue to their landlord and it is one which falls under the act, then the landlord has a reasonable time to put the issue right before the tenant can take legal action. However, any hazard located in common parts of a block of flats or a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) would make the landlord immediately liable.
If a tenant takes action, the court can require the landlord to undertake remedial work and also to pay compensation to the tenant. The compensation amount is at the discretion of the judge, with no limit.
The new act increases pressure on landlords to monitor and demonstrate the fitness of their properties, as the potential consequences of not addressing fitness issues promptly are now more severe.
Social housing organisations already have robust practices for monitoring their stock condition and ensuring that repairs and preventative maintenance are carried out on any failing properties. However now the stakes are higher, so it’s worthwhile reviewing existing processes and seeing where these might be strengthened.
There are two main measurement standards applicable to the new Act:
Section 10 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 specifies nine Fitness Standards which indicate that a property is not fit for human habitation:
Each of these items is measured on a pass/fail standard, and any failure renders a property unfit, and if not addressed could potentially allow the tenant to take action under the act.
The Housing Health and Safety (England) Regulations 2005 also specify 29 hazards, assessed on the basis of a risk assessment which results in a points score and places each risk into a hazard band from A to J.
Bands A to C are Category One scores (1,000 plus points) and represent a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety. Although there is no published guidance or caselaw on this yet, it is reasonable to think that Category One scores are the ones which might trigger action under the 2018 Act.
For landlords, the two standards above should already be very familiar.
The Fitness standards previously formed part of Decent Homes, and these questions typically formed part of the stock condition survey template at that time. However, they were generally removed when HHSRS took their place in the Decent Homes calculation. Landlords should consider reintroducing these to ensure there’s a clear pass/fail measurement during a stock condition survey.
The Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS ) should already be in use by Landlords in England and Wales as a component of Decent Homes/WHQS. Many landlords undertake a simple indicative assessment as part of their stock condition survey programme, rating each hazard into categories such as (None, Typical, Slight, Moderate or Severe) and treating the severe ones as Category One failures. Our Orchard Asset system provides, as alternatives, both the full risk calculation and indicative assessment methodologies.
While social landlords already have established methods of identifying failing properties, they may need to consider the frequency with which assessments are carried out.
Surveys and assessments are generally not more frequent than every 5 years, and issues can arise in the intervening years. The increased scope for tenants to take action means that it’s important for landlords to review their procedures to ensure that:
Rather than requiring a significant change in the methods landlords use to report on their stock condition, the new act makes it more important than ever that these standards are rigorously monitored and that repairs relating to fitness or HHSRS standards are prioritised.
The issue isn’t that most social housing organisations need to do anything differently, but that the potential consequences of failures in their existing processes are much higher than they were previously. With increased power for tenants to take action, it’s never been more important for landlords to be able to identify potential fitness issues in their properties quickly, and respond to them in a timely manner.
Good data is at the heart of maintaining compliance with fitness standards. Ensuring that team members are all fully briefed on the potential implications of repairs which relate to Fitness or HHSRS is vital, as is ensuring that all staff visiting properties have a simple method of reporting issues and instigating repair action.
Orchard’s Asset and Housing modules offer robust features to help social landlords keep on top of stock condition and ensure that any risk or liability is kept to an absolute minimum. To find out more about how Orchard can help your organisation monitor and manage its stock condition, contact us for a free demo today.
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Tel: 0191 203 2500