The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, which came into force on 20th March 2019, has seen the issue of mould and damp put firmly back on the radar. However, pioneering research could potentially provide a breakthrough in the management of these problems.
This new law aims to ensure that rented flats and houses are suitable for human habitation, which means that they are free from hazards which could cause tenants serious harm, in addition to being healthy and safe. The legislation received cross-party support after first being introduced by Labour MP, Karen Buck.
The purpose of the new legislation is to amend the relevant sections of the 1985 Landlord and Tenant Act by extending the obligations to cover all landlords and to update the test for fitness for habitation.
If a landlord fails to maintain and let a property to a standard which is suitable for human habitation, then the law provides tenants with the right to take further action within the courts.
In regard to the standards of housing that a landlord provides, the Act does not propose any new changes. The law still uses the HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System) Regulations, which has applied in England since 2005, and this lists the 29 hazards which a property must not contain, within Schedule 1. These hazards define why a property could be ruled not suitable for human habitation. An InventoryBase login can ensure that risk assessments, inventory reports and tenant check ins and check outs are conducted to a professional standard, and can help complete checks to ensure that your rental property remains clear of hazards.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation Act) also provides tenants with an effective route for claiming compensation if their landlord fails to take suitable steps in addressing an issue with hazards in the home. This also speeds up the process, where the tenant would have previously had to wait for Environmental Health or the council to act on their behalf.
There are, however, still some exceptions for landlords. Firstly, most of the Act refers only to tenancies in England, and although a landlord is responsible for most issues, there are some exceptions. For example, any problem which is caused by the tenant’s behaviour, such as by them acting illegally or irresponsibly, the landlord will not have to fix the issue. Issues which are beyond the control of the landlord, such as floods, storms or fires, are also not the responsibility of the landlord. If the landlord has not been able to gain permission from certain people, then they are also not liable to comply with the regulations.
Without question, the most contentious issue between tenants and landlords is the presence of mould and damp. Issues surrounding damp are often complex, as it can be difficult to define when the issue is a product of excessive moisture or inadequate ventilation.
However, the UCL IEDE (University College London Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering) and PCA (Property Care Association) are working to develop a formula which could transform the ways in which damp is managed in the home. Together, the organisations launched a KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) which analysed the problem of moisture within buildings in a research project which lasted two years. A breakthrough was made in creating a diagnostic, tangible tool which is designed to tackle excessive moisture levels.
The tool can analyse the conditions inside a building, and understand why there is an imbalance in moisture levels, as well as prescribing solutions to resolve the issue. It is hoped that the tool could have a wide impact on air quality inside properties both internationally and in the UK, and allow landlords to proactively protect their properties.
A possible outcome from the Homes Act could be a more enthusiastic approach in dealing with condensation and damp, with pre-tenancy surveys for dampness and ventilation becoming routine.
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