At Austin D’arcy, we make sure that the properties we rent are fit for habitation, and that all of our landlords adhere to the current HHSRS system, and the Fitness for Habitation Act 2018, the law from 20 March 2019. Councils are required to ensure rental properties in their area meet important safety standards using the “Housing Health and Safety Rating System” and are able to force landlords to take action where tenants are languishing in unsafe accommodation. We wholeheartedly agree with MP Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) who has brought the new Fitness for Habitation Bill to parliament and championed it through to royal assent in December 2018. “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 fitness for human habitation act comes into force on 20 March 2019, to replace by the complicated provisions of Part 1 Housing Act 2004, which provided a system for assessing housing conditions and enforcing housing standards called the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (or HHSRS for short).
The full system used by local authority uses numbers to represent the likelihood of an occurrence as the result of a hazard and to represent the possible spread of harm. In this way, a score is produced to reflect the inspecting officer’s judgement as to the severity of a hazard, but these are more conveniently put into bands covering ranges of scores. The bands (and the scores) allow the severity of very different hazards to be compared, for instance, damp and mould, with carbon monoxide. The bands range from A (scores of 5,000 or more), which is the most dangerous and life-threatening, down to J (scores of nine or less), the least.
Local authorities are under a duty to take action in the case of category 1 hazards. If necessary (or if the owner/manager requests) the local authority may carry out any necessary remedial work themselves and reclaim the costs. They also have powers to take action in the case of all category 2 hazards (i.e. those which carry lower risks). Local authorities also have the power to make a reasonable charge as a means of recovering certain expenses incurred in taking enforcement action. There is no statutory limit but the charge needs to be reasonable.
There are 29 hazards which need to be considered, and these have been divided into four groupings:
Damp and mould growth
Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibre
Carbon monoxide and fuel combustion products
Uncombusted fuel gas
Volatile organic compounds
Crowding and space
Entry by intruders
Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse
Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
Water supply for domestic purpose
Falls associated with baths
Falling on level surfaces
Falling associated with stairs and steps
Falling between levels
Flames and hot surfaces
Collision and entrapment
Position and operability of amenities
Structural collapse and failing elements