The Fitness for Human Habitation (FFHH) Bill was introduced to Parliament by Karen Buck MP. The bill received cross party and Government backing and was granted its Royal Ascent on December 20th 2018 meaning it is going to become law in England on March 20th 2019. Similar legislation that will be applicable to Wales is expected soon.
What is it?
The FFHH Bill is yet another nail in the coffin of those landlords and agents who simply do not care what condition their property is in.
The passing of this bill – which has received the backing of both Shelter and ARLA – should go a long way to improving standards in the private rented sector.
It will also give tenants the right to take legal action where fixed financial penalties of up to £30,000 and banning orders await those found to be at fault.
What does it mean?
FFHH means that the property needs to be fit for human habitation when the tenancy starts, during the term and when it finishes. This new legislation will see a significant change on how the property is managed by the landlord/agent as it may well make it harder – especially if a landlord is self-managing the property – to keep on top of any issues if regular inspections are not undertaken.
So what has changed?
The basis of this new legislation is the Housing Act 2004. Under that Act, if a landlord failed to comply with a Local Authority Enforcement Notice, they committed an offence and were liable to prosecution. But as we know, enforcement notices were rare so there was little incentive for rogue landlords to maintain a property up to scratch.
Now, thanks to FFHH, tenants no longer have to wait for the intervention of the Local Authority to try an put things right. The will have the right to take legal action against the landlord if the conditions of FFHH are not met.
Will it really make a difference?
As with all things new, only time will tell. Certainly, there is a huge chasm between having the ability to take legal action and having the financial wherewithall to actually take that action. And given that rogue landlords tend to target those that are poorest in society, the legislation may not actually have the desired impact.
But this problem has been noted and assurances have been given that it will be addressed, but as I say, only time will tell. Indeed, with the huge fines that could be levied here together with a fairly straightforward burden of proof requirement, we may see opportunist ‘no win, no fee’ firms popping up.
I am a good Landlord, how does it affect me?
FFHH will affect all landlords and their agents whether good or bad.
There are 29 hazards that have been identified and these will need to be assessed, catagorised and then, if necessary, remedial action will need to be put in place to ensure the safety of both tenants and their visitors.
For a full list of all the hazards and the categories they fall into click here
So what do I need to do?
The best way for a landlord/agent to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation at the beginning of any tenancy is to make sure that they have a very robust inventory process in place. A robust inventory, backed up by pictures, can be used to show that the property was fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy and can help resolve any deposit disputes at the end of the tenancy. By doing this, it is the start of your audit trail showing that you are doing your job to ensure the property meets the requirements of the new legislation.
The bill covers up to 29 potential hazards and although photographs can’t prove that no radiation or asbestos or MMF are present, it can help cover elements such as electrical hazards, lighting and hygiene as well as mould and damp. When conducting the check out, you can compare the photos to judge whether to property is still fit for human habitation or if it has become unfit and work to rectify is needed. When conducting your periodic visits, it would also be a best practice to take photos of the property (as long as the tenants have granted you permission) so that you are able to check that the property has not become unfit and there is no breach.
What about during the Tenancy?
During the tenancy, the onus for this is placed on the tenant to report anything that makes the property unfit to the landlord/agent. Clearly, you are not able to fix an issue that you are unaware of so documenting any reports made by the tenant that the property has become unfit help to create an audit trail all the way through to completion of the tenancy. This is where periodic visits using pictures can help as you will be able to identify any issues that the tenant may not have noticed.
And if there are issues?
Once you are aware that there is an issue making the property unfit, your duty as the landlord/agent under the new legislation will be to rectify the issue in a timely manner. Again, taking a photo of the work completed and having a sufficient audit trail to show that the work has been completed to a satisfactory manner is key to showing compliance.
One of the main things that landlords/agents should do moving forward is to maintain a robust audit trail from the start of the tenancy to its end. Doing this correctly and accurately throughout will minimise any errors and will help with deciding whether fitness for human habitation requirements have been breached.
In essence, any and every action from the beginning to the end of the tenancy should be documented as thoroughly as possible to create a robust audit trail.
The introduction of FFHH can only have a positive impact on the Lettings sector as a whole. Standards should rise meaning tenants will have more confidence in the process. Tenants will now be empowered to take action but only time will tell if they can actually weild that power!
Landlords who already do a good job at looking after their property have little to fear and are not going to be faced with lots of unexpected costs. But those that do not could see a dent in their budgets together with the possibility of severe fines and banning orders if they don’t up their game.