Landlords – Are You Ready For The New Law?

3rd April 2019
David Gurton

A new law came in to force on 20th March – possibly lost under the miasma of Brexit wrangling – but of vital importance to landlords and tenants.

This law, which covers all new tenancies in England of less than seven years, gives tenants the right to take landlords to task and sue if they neglect to maintain their rental property to an adequate standard.

The tragedy of Grenfell is an extreme example of dereliction of duty. It appears, maintenance and after-checks, fell far below the minimum safety standards required. Variations occurred with little regard to the integrity of the whole. This brought into sharp focus that the law needed changing to avoid badly maintained rental properties, which could and would put lives at risk. Whilst Grenfell was a social housing project the spotlight also fell on the private rented sector (PRS).

With cross-party support, Labour MP Karen Buck sought to extend the reach and conditions of sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to cover most residential landlords whilst also updating the fitness for habitation test. The Bill’s 16 amendments passed to Third Reading in December 2018. The Government confirmed that it would support the Bill on 14 January 2018 and Sajid Javid said: “Everyone deserves a decent and safe place to live. Councils already have wide-ranging powers to crack down on the minority of landlords who rent out unsafe and substandard accommodation.

“However, public safety is paramount and I am determined to do everything possible to protect tenants. That is why government will support new legislation that requires all landlords to ensure properties are safe and give tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties.”

The Bill makes sure that:

  • All landlords (both social and private sector) must ensure their property is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout
  • Where a landlord fails to do so, the tenant has the right to take legal action in the courts for breach of contract on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation

For many years, there have been worries about maintenance standards in some PRS housing, and it is hoped that the new law will put an end to this bad practice of some landlords and/or their managing agents.

So what must landlords do to comply with the new law? The 1985 Act obliges them to keep in repair the structure and exterior of their properties and to repair installations for the supply of water, heating and sanitation. From now on and when a new tenancy commences, a property may be deemed unfit for habitation if it is found wanting in one or more of the following ways:

  • Repair
  • Stability
  • Damp
  • Internal arrangement
  • Natural lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Water supply
  • Drainage and sanitary conveniences
  • Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water

Plus “any prescribed hazard” – all of which can be found in the housing health and safety rating system where 29 hazards are listed including asbestos, fire, noise, pests and electrical hazards.

This tightening of the law is not unreasonable or unexpected, and hopefully it will weed out bad landlords and/or their managing agents who do not comply with generally accepted living standards.

But the onus will fall on landlords to ensure that they comply with the new law and that their residential rental property ticks all the boxes.

Landlords occasionally purchase a residential property investment without really considering all of the consequences. However, if they engage an experienced managing agent – whether for a house or a block of flats – to keep abreast of new legislation and can inform them of changes to rules, regulations and their obligations they can negotiate the mantraps without worry.

There is an abundance of property to rent in Kent. Many rental properties are houses and flats owned by good but accidental or single property landlords, for whom the law can be a minefield.

The new law does recognise that some things are not the responsibility or in the gift of the landlord and amongst others these include accidental damage such as flood or storm damage, where third-party consent is needed but refused or if permission for works is required (such as planning permission).

For more information contact Caxtons on 01474 537733 or visit www.caxtons.com

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