Is your rental property fit for habitation? 21 Jan 2019
On 20th of March 2019 the Fitness for Habitation Bill comes into force to replace the complicated provisions of Part 1 Housing Act 2004.
Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the Bill, it received it’s ‘Royal Assent’ on 20th of December 2018 and is now a bonafide Act of Parliament. Basically, the bill was championed by MP Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab) in order to give tenants the absolute right to take legal action against Private and Social landlords if a property isn’t up to the standard of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) for breach of contract. It has been a much-debated subject and I am sure that all of our landlords will agree, this is something long overdue, and, as Ms Karen Buck stated during the bill’s parliamentary journey:
“Living in a cold, damp or unsafe home is hell. It damages people’s physical and mental wellbeing, erodes the income of the poorest households and impacts on children’s education. The most vulnerable tenants are those most at risk of being trapped in substandard accommodation, and they are often the least able to withstand the damage such conditions do, or to fight their corner unaided. The emails that flow in from constituents—and, indeed, many others, including the hundreds of people who took part in the parliamentary digital involvement exercise before the Second Reading debate—about bad housing conditions make truly heart-rending reading. I am sure that everyone in this House will have received similar representations.”
Local authorities will now be under a legal duty to take action in the case of sub-standard properties. If necessary, the local authority may carry out any necessary remedial work themselves and reclaim the costs from the landlord. Local authorities also have the power to make a reasonable charge as a means of recovering certain expenses incurred in taking enforcement action.
So what is the HHSRS?
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a system for assessing the risks to tenants from rental properties which are not of a habitable standard. The system focusses on identifying and tackling the hazards that are most likely to be present in a property to make homes healthier and safer to live in.
The system deals with 29 hazards relating to:
- Dampness, excess cold/heat
- Pollutants e.g. asbestos, carbon monoxide, lead
- Lack of space, security or lighting, or excessive noise
- Poor hygiene, sanitation, water supply
- Accidents – falls, electric shocks, fires, burns, scalds
- Collisions, explosions, structural collapse
Each hazard is assessed separately, and if judged to be ‘serious’, with a ‘high score’, is deemed to be a category 1 hazard. All other hazards are called category 2 hazards. The best advice for your landlords is to explain the 29 hazards, paying particular attention to the condition of the property and highlight any areas of worry for the landlords/tenants. For any property you feel at risk (usually older properties), advise that a risk assessment is carried out, which will look at the likelihood of an incident arising from the condition of the property and the likely harmful outcome. If a local authority discovers category 1 hazards in a home, it has a duty to take the most appropriate action, so try to ensure your properties are up to the required standard before they are rented out.
Let’s look at these hazards in more detail:
A psychological hazard is any hazard that affects the mental well-being or mental health of the tenant by overwhelming the individual coping mechanisms and impacting the tenant’s ability to live in a healthy and safe manner.
- Crowding and space
- Entry by intruders
Physiological hazards are threats to health from things which the landlord should rectify, eg. house dust mites and mould or fungal spores resulting from dampness or high humidity.
- Damp and mould growth
- Excess cold
- Excess heat
- Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibre
- Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
- Uncombusted fuel gas
- Volatile organic compounds
This is concerned with protection against infection, including hazards resulting from poor design/layout/construction of the property so that it is difficult to be kept clean and hygienic; access into the property for pests; or inadequate and unhygienic provision for storage and disposal of household waste. Health effects can include gastrointestinal disease (from spread of infection), asthma and other allergic reactions (from allergens), stress (because of difficulties in keeping the home clean and from accumulations of refuse) food spoilage from insect infestation (e.g. cockroaches), infections (spread by insects and rats and mice) and nuisance.
- Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
- Food safety
- Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
- Water supply for domestic purpose
Hazards which cause accidents
This is self-explanatory but is a huge issue. This hazard includes any fall associated with bath/shower/similar facility, whether that fall is on the same level or from one level to another. It includes falls on any level surface such as floors/yards/paths, also trip steps/thresholds/ramps where the change in level is less than 300mm. It covers any fall associated with a change in level greater than 300mm or falls between two levels within and outside a dwelling or building where the change in level is more than 300mm. Falls on stairs account for around 25% of all home falls (fatal and non-fatal).
- Falls associated with baths
- Falling on level surfaces
- Falling associated with stairs and steps
- Falling between levels
- Electrical hazards
- Flames and hot surfaces
- Collision and entrapment
- Position and operability of amenities
- Structural collapse and failing elements