Will your tenant be taking you to court?
From March 20th this year, under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act, tenants will be able to sue their landlords over unfit homes. Instead of having to go through local authorities, direct action will be possible, and tenants may be awarded damages.
It is estimated that one million rented homes have hazards that contravene the requirements of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. The legislation changes have a sound purpose – unfit properties leave far too many renters living in unsafe conditions. However, a great many landlords could find themselves in the courts over things that have previously been tolerated. The list of areas covered by the act is long. Properties may be deemed unfit if there are issues with:
- Heating systems
- Water supply
- Internal arrangements
- Sanitary arrangements
- Food preparation and cooking facilities
It’s easy to see that some of these areas could be open to interpretation. Imagine a property with a window that won’t open or one with a temperamental boiler. Both are issues landlords should fix, but now the weight of the law will be on the side of the tenant. What you may see as routine maintenance on a lengthy to-do list could see you in court. It has never been more important to ensure properties are up to scratch.
That could be a problem if you’re managing properties yourself and have a portfolio that’s not on your doorstep. It could mean a property you’ve recently acquired could need more substantial improvements before you can let it. For example, a three-bedroomed property with internal partition walls that leave a room without natural light might need to become a two-bedroom property. The small damp patch your last tenant didn’t even report could see you in an expensive legal battle.
There are ways in which LegalforLandlords can help. Firstly, we have an excellent Legal Services Team which specialises in property rental law. We have a free of charge advice line, and if you decide to use any of our services, our fees are fixed, transparent and great value.
Secondly, we have a suite of services known as Rental Essentials. These are aimed at both landlords and tenants but include very practical services that landlords need, including Energy Performance Certificates and Legionella Risk Assessments. There are sources of finance if you need to invest in upgrading a property and professional check-in/check-out and inventory services that are invaluable if you can’t be hands on.
Thirdly, we offer a range of insurance products that can protect your interests or provide emergency assistance for repairs and maintenance issues. If you can’t be on-site to sort a leaking roof, someone else can stop that leak turning into a damp wall.
There is relentless pressure for higher standards in rented housing from politicians and housing charities with widespread public support, and I, for one, believe all landlords should act responsibly and protect the health and safety of their tenants. This legislation should help to force accountability, but with one million homes below par, there are obviously a great many landlords who need to get their act together. What’s more, they need to do it fast – the legislation comes into force next month.
If you’re a landlord who’d rather not end up in court, call us and let’s start the process of sorting your property’s problems.