The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force on March 20th 2019 and the new legislation, initially proposed by Labour MP Karen Buck, couldn’t have come soon enough. Tenants both private and social now have more powers to sue landlords that fail to keep their properties in a livable condition.

Social tenants and tenants who rent from a private landlord now have more powers to sue landlords that fail to keep their properties in a livable condition.

The Act was proposed as an upgrade to the out-of-date and unfit for purpose Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985 which had left the living conditions of private and social tenants to the whims of landlords for too long. The new legislation now stipulates that rented homes must be in a condition that’s fit for human habitation from day one of the tenancy and throughout the tenancy. Prior to the new Act, landlords were simply obliged to keep their properties in a state of ‘good repair’. And this is the key distinction and where the new Act will hopefully lead to a much needed living standards across the board.

‘Good repair’ was open to wilful misinterpretation, obliging landlords only to fix things that are obviously broken, like smashed windows and faulty locks. It didn’t account for the actual living conditions. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act covers other, equally important influencers on quality of life, such as adequate natural light, proper ventilation and – perhaps most crucially – freedom from damp and mould.

In the same month that legislation came into force, a nationally representative study of tenants found that 44% of UK residents who are living, or have lived, in rented accommodation had suffered health problems and injury directly attributable to the poor living conditions in their rented home. Common among the causes of health complaints were “environmental irritants, damp, mould and pests” but renters also reported “burns, electric shocks and puncture wounds” sustained as a direct result of the condition of their rented home. Younger renters are 24% more likely to suffer from these rental health problems when compared to the national average.

The research was carried out by Aspect, a London-based property maintenance firm who specialise in correcting damp and leaks which can lead to mould spores, something the study identified as a common cause of respiratory problems. Aspect’s spokesperson Nick Bizley believes there is a reason young people are getting a rougher deal than most when it comes to rental conditions.

“It’s alarming but not surprising that so many UK tenants are reporting health problems directly related to the condition of their home. From first-hand experience, the age imbalance of those suffering ill-health and injury due to the condition of their home can be directly related to the younger age group not being confident enough to bring maintenance issues up with their landlord.”

The study identified a range of causes for chronic health problems attributed to bad living conditions, but it also revealed that some tenants are facing potentially life threatening and acute health issues, with carbon monoxide poisoning and legionnaires disease being two of the most severe. The study found that 5% of participants had contracted a bacterial infection from their water supply and 4% had suffered from a carbon monoxide related illness – a cause of death for around 50 UK residents per year, according to some reports. Bizley believes these more severe health problems are easily overlooked by landlords in their hunger to complete quick and profitable conversions into homes of multiple occupancy.

“One of our tradespeople recently discovered a homeowner’s drinking water was being fed from a water storage tank rather than being connected directly to a mains supply. This has been done during extensive refurbishment work at the property. You should never drink water from a storage tank as they provide the right conditions for bacteria, such as legionella, to exist. Our tradespeople warned the customer they should change their plumbing as soon as possible and to not drink water from their taps on the meantime.

“Our people also regularly see poorly ventilated homes as a direct result of landlords converting large properties into flats without allowing for sufficient ventilation in each subsequent property. This leads to damp, which causes mould, which is proven to have a detrimental impact on health.”

“Aspect tradespeople have also reported non-isolated gas lines where the entire gas supply was located in the ground floor flat in a block of four. Another shortcut we regularly see is landlord-supplied appliances that haven’t been PAT tested. I think landlords can be ignorant of their obligations so we hope this new legislation will clarify those obligations to ensure homes are fit for habitation and lead to a general improvement for living conditions across the rental sector.”

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