An introductory look at the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards Bill) 2017-19


This is a Private Member’s Bill currently progressing through Parliament which intends to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (LTA 1985) to extend and expand an existing implied term.

This will have the effect of imposing on most residential landlords an obligation to maintain let property as fit for human habitation, and to give tenants a corresponding right of action, with specific performance as a statutorily mandated remedy.

Who is supporting it?
The bill was introduced by Labour MP Karen Buck and was supported by her party, Shelter and the Residential Landlords Association. Government support unexpectedly came on 14 January 2018. Its passage into law, and unamended, is not certain. It was successfully given a second reading in the House of Commons on 19 January 2018 and will be scrutinised by a Commons committee at a date yet to be announced.

How does it do it?
It amends ss8-10 LTA 1985. The existing provisions contain an implied term that a house is fit for human habitation and will be kept as such, but only applies to tenancies with annual rents at commencement of £52 (or £80 in London). Such rent limits have not been revised since 1957 and so this implied term has fallen out of use.

The new s8 introduces an implied covenant to ensure the let dwelling is fit for human habitation at the time of grant and is kept in this condition throughout the tenancy. Specific performance is provided as a remedy by the new statute, notwithstanding any rule of equity. There are limited exemptions from the duty, including where such unfitness arises from a natural disaster or the tenant’s failure to use the dwelling in a tenant-like manner.

The new s8A defines which tenancies this duty applies to, namely tenancies granted or renewed after this bill has been brought into force, which are mainly for human habitation and are either (i) for a term of less than 7 years or (ii) a secure, assured or introductory tenancy for a fixed term of 7 years or more. The new implied term will also apply to existing periodic or secure tenancies after a period of 12 months after the new s8 comes into force, allowing landlords time to ensure their existing let housing stock is fit for human habitation.

The Bill would also amend the list of factors to be considered in assessing whether a dwelling is reasonably suitable for habitation to include any prescribed hazard under the Housing Act 2004. This is particularly significant because, if the bill is passed into law in its current form, this may represent a sea-change in approach to disrepair liability for residential landlords. The focus of the current s11 is on questions of whether disrepair forms part of the structure of a building, with chartered surveyors providing expert opinion. The new s8 will focus much more on questions of habitability and hazard, where environmental health expertise may be of greater relevance. Existing case-law under s8 provides that the landlord’s duty is limited to premises that can be made fit at reasonable expense (Buswell v Goodwin [1971] 1 WLR 92, CA) but it remains to

Where will it apply?
The Bill applies to the law of England and Wales, but would only affect tenancies in England. This is because similar provisions are already in place in Wales through the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. Complementary provisions exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Why is this bill going ahead now?
The Grenfell Tower fire has refocused attention on housing standards in the social housing sector and across the wider rental market. Particular lacunae identified include the patchwork nature of enforceable rights on the part of tenants and the inapplicability of the HHSRS enforcement system to local authorities. When giving support for this bill, the government has cited its commitment to public safety and protection of tenants from a minority of landlords who let unsafe and substandard accommodation.

For further information or any questions, please contact Mark Foxcroft on 020 7065 1861 or mark.foxcroft@devonshires.co.uk


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