The Homes (Fitness for Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill
This Private Member's Bill, introduced by labour MP Karen Buck, passed its second reading in the Commons on 19 January 2018 with a unanimous vote, and will now go to Committee.
The purpose of the Bill is to give tenants new powers to hold landlords to account for housing standards by inserting additional provisions into the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Section 11 sets out the current implied repairing obligations and this would remain unchanged. As drafted, the Bill would replace Section 8 to provide a further implied covenant that the dwelling is fit for habitation at the time of grant and will thereafter be kept fit for human habitation throughout the term. As with Section 11, it would apply to any lease of a dwelling for a term of less than seven years.
On deciding ‘fitness for habitation’, the amended Section 10 would list matters which need to be considered: repair, stability, freedom from damp, internal arrangement, natural lighting, ventilation, water supply, drainage and sanitary conveniences, facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water, and any 'prescribed hazard', meaning anything prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State under Section 2 of the Housing Act 2004. This would comprise the list of hazards in Schedule 1 of The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005 (HHSRS). The dwelling will be regarded as unfit if it is so defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation in that condition.
The implied term would apply to all new tenancies, and also to existing periodic tenancies (whether secure, assured or statutory periodic) with effect one year after the commencement date.
Section 11 puts a statutory obligation on most landlords to keep in repair the structure and exterior of their properties, and to repair installations for the supply of water, heating and sanitation. However, as Section 11 applies only to repair it this requires there to have been some damage or deterioration, and does not cover all situations where conditions pose a risk to health and safety. Provisions requiring landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation (the current Section 10) have ceased to have affect as a result of annual rent limits. The proposed 'fitness standards' can already be enforced by the local authority through the HHSRS, but there is inconsistent application and enforcement by local authorities. The system falls short in the case of council tenants since local authorities cannot take enforcement action against themselves. The new Section 8 is intended to bridge the gap and provide a direct statutory remedy for tenants where property standards or fitness fall short.
The Bill does not add new responsibilities as such, but instead imports the HHSRS standard into statute, allowing a tenant to apply to the court for an order for specific performance and damages (as opposed to asking the local authority to inspect and serve a notice obligating the landlord to take action). It will be interesting to see the extent, if at all, to which this might replace complaints to a local authority's Environmental Health Department and notices being served under the HHSRS.