To understand the consequences of the new law it is important for landlords to know what aspects of the 1985 Act have been amended.
The Homes act has made a significant change to the existing 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act in order to introduce a more modern health and safety based approach to defining whether a property is habitable.
Government guidance for the new Act state “there is an implied agreement between the tenant and landlord at the beginning of the tenancy that the property will be fit for human habitation”.
Another core part of what the Act has changed is the ability for tenants to bring cases against landlords more easily if a property is deemed in a state of disrepair.
Previously, the two routes available to tenants when complaining about poor housing conditions relied upon them to either contact their local authority to help enforce property standards or for them to bring a private prosecution in a magistrates’ court under section 82 of the Environmental Health Act 1990.
However, these routes have long been deemed as inadequate in resolving issues regarding poorly maintained properties either due to a lack of resources by Local Authorities to enforce checks on landlords and thus take action or because litigation via the magistrates’ courts was extremely costly and often needed a criminal, thus higher, burden of proof against a landlord to prove a case.
In a briefing paper on the Act, the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) noted that local authorities also couldn’t in many cases act as independent arbitrators for cases taken up by their own tenants. The CIH noted that “many local authorities are also social landlords and cannot take legal action against themselves.”
Their relationships with other housing providers can also disincentivise action – as they are unlikely to want to jeopardise an otherwise very valuable relationship. As a result, the Homes Act can be viewed as a means for social tenants living in unfit properties to challenge their landlord without risking a conflict of interest. As the CIH also notes “This has taken on greater significance following the Grenfell Tower fire, where residents had previously unsuccessfully attempted to raise concerns about the safety of their building.”