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National Homeless Advice Service

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (or The Homes Act for short)

Posted by Debbie Watson July 04, 2019

‘fit for human habitation’ a potted history from Beki Heaton, consultancy line advisor

I begin this inaugural post with the news that, a rented home should be fit for a person to live in from the outset; so says the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (or The Homes Act for short).

The MHCLG’s guidance summarises that the law is “to make sure that rented houses and flats are ‘fit for human habitation’, which means that they are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm.”

Many would argue this is a long overdue update to the catalogue of case law and legislation. A brief history takes us back to cases from as early as 1843, which tell us that a furnished property must be fit to be lived in from the outset and, if not, the tenant can quit the property immediately. But making an argument based on centuries old case law is no mean feat, and the situation must be severe.

Delve a little deeper, and you’ll find such obscurities as the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1885; a public health act which gave local authorities the power to condemn slum housing. This was by all accounts kick-started by Lord Salisbury’s article in The National Review in 1883 entitled “Labourers’ and Artisans’ Dwellings”, which highlighted the poor conditions that many people were living in, and the “misery which such conditions of life must cause”.

Some of the more recent legislation sets out a landlord’s responsibility for essential repairs such as a broken boiler or a leaky roof. There’s also the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, which still gives us the definition of a hazard, and is happily due for review later this year, some 15 years or so after its inception.

Various case law has emerged over the years too, citing other legislation such as the Defective Premises Act 1972, which has helped us work out who is responsible for things like providing a bannister or fixing a step. However, poor living conditions arguably remain as prevalent today as they did in the nineteenth century.

So, all hail The Homes Act? It certainly imposes responsibilities that were not explicitly there before. Take the example of a property which has a damp problem due to something like poor design or a lack of insulation. Or consider the detrimental effect to some, if there is a significant lack of natural light. There has been little recourse before for tenants faced with issues like these, so many will welcome their inclusion in the new law.

That recourse largely consists of County Court action for breach of contract, where the court has wide powers to make orders for specific performance and award damages. So, those wanting more on rights to walk away from a tenancy altogether will be disappointed. The full benefit of the changes remains to be seen, but this is arguably a step in the right direction.

More information on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 can be found in the April 2019 edition of Housing Matters.