Making the properties safe, healthy, and comfortable for living should be the goal of every good landlord.
In the UK, the process is also covered legally by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) act. It came into force in 2019, and besides giving more rights to tenants, it was also highly supported by landlords’ associations, too.
So, what criteria do landlords have to meet? What is defined as uninhabitable living conditions? What are the penalties if a property doesn’t comply? And how to effectively inspect flats and houses to make them ready for tenants?
What is the Fitness for Human Habitation (FFHH) act?
In short, the Homes FFHH act makes it mandatory for landlords to ensure that rented houses and flats are safe and secure for living.
This act doesn’t just point out flaws in the property. It also forces the court to declare a habitat unfit for the tenancy to avoid any potential mishap.
This applies for the entire duration of a tenancy.
If the set criteria are not met, tenants can sue their landlords. The landlords can then be obliged by court to fix all issues or pay compensation to their tenants.
Tenant suing landlord comes under an act named Implied Covenant, which gives tenants the right to file a legal action against the landlord directly to the local housing authority. So, if the authority finds the tenant’s claim to be true, it will carry the matter to the court itself.
The act was introduced on March 20, 2019, as an extension of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. It is applied to any residential contract with less than 7 years of the Enforcement date or any fixed tenancy that turned periodic after it.
The act is also applied to any currently active periodic tenancy, but it should have a 12-month grace period.
The necessity of this act was felt after the Grenfell Tower fire incident when a fire from an electrical fault in a refrigerator burnt down the 24-story residential building. It was the UK’s worst residential fire after WWII, which caused 72 deaths.
What are the criteria that define uninhabitable living conditions in the FFHH act?
Landlords have to ensure that the property meets the criteria set by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Key matters that a court can consider are:
- The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
- The building is unstable
- There’s a serious problem with damp
- It has an unsafe layout
- There’s not enough natural light
- There’s not enough ventilation
- There is a problem with the supply of hot and cold water
- There are problems with the drainage or the lavatories
- It’s difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up
Other problems that a tenant could face and the landlord should take care of are mentioned below with brief details:
1. Food safety
Food safety problems include tenants’ difficulties while storing, preparing, or cooking food. The issues can be caused by a damaged sink that restricts proper cleaning or a humid environment that can cause fungal, mould, or mildew growth.
2. Water supply
It involves any restriction in the consistent water supply that may affect the cleaning, cooking, washing, drinking, or sanitation process. The issue may be caused by a faulty pipeline or any problem with the storage tanks.
3. Domestic hygiene, pests, and refuse (including all disposal of household and water waste)
The section addresses any unhygienic circumstances that can cause infection to the habitants. The problem may arise due to inadequate use of insecticides or pest control spray, potential entry of rodents or insect, damaged brickwork, or broken windows.
4. Crowding and space
The crowding and space issue involves the insufficient provision of area for personal space, which primarily directs toward structural and design flaws. A lack of space in crowded conditions or public gatherings also comes under this section.
Unnecessary noise from the environment is a threat to mental health. Every improper measure for sound insulation from neighbours or surroundings, which can cause inconvenience is subjected to this category.
6. Excess cold
These are any threats to physical or mental health when the temperature falls below a comfortable level. It can be caused by any seasonal change, calamity, poor insulation, or absence of an operative heating system.
7. Excess heat
There can be a threat to physical or mental health when the temperature goes above a comfortable level. The issue can arise due to poor ventilation, improper cooling system, too many south-facing windows, or insufficient measures to address hot weather.
8. Damp & mould growth
Issues like mould, mildew, fungal growth, or dust mites due to dampness or humidity. These biological intruders can cause infection and health complications in the inhabitants. Their growth can result from poor ventilation or inadequate conditions to control humidity.
It involves threats to residents’ health by chemicals to treat fungus or mould. It can be caused by inhaling, swallowing, or skin contact with the chemicals.
10. Asbestos and manufactured mineral fibers
Issues arising from airborne Asbestos and Manufactured Mineral Fibers. The materials were used as the coating and insulation of buildings during the time period of 1945-1980. Any complication from exposure to these fibers falls under this category.
The lead sources in housing are paints, water pipes, or industries near the residential area. Lead traces can also affect tenants living near a busy road, with the traffic exhausting smoke of leaded petrol. Problems from lead arise by inhalation of its fumes as it is toxic to humans.
12. Fuel combustion products
Fuel combustion products can cause health issues by inhalation of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and smoke. All these products are toxic and life-threatening. The causes for their emission are partial combustion of fuel, gas, oil, and solid fuels.
13. Radon gas radiation from airborne or water
Radon gas is formed by Uranium’s radioactive decay in rocks and soil. Its trace amount is present airborne or in water. The unit for its measurement is Becquerels per cubic metre (Bqm-3) in air, and the average level in the UK is 20 Bqm-3. Any residence with 100+ Bqm-3 is concerning and hazardous.
14. Uncombusted fuel gas leaks
Any fuel gas emissions from a leaking pipe or junction fall under this section. The threat is hazardous in the form of a leakage in a kitchen appliance like a stove, gas heater, or geyser.
15. Volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are typically sublime materials that are gaseous at room temperature, mostly found in newly built homes. Tenants can experience high VOC exposure from paints, glues, plywood, chipboard, solvents, and urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI), which is adverse for health.
16. Potential intruder’s entry
This category addresses the entry of an intruder due to low-security measures, threatening life or possessions. It can happen due to housing location (in a region with a high crime rate), improper security measures, poor conditions of doors/windows, and the absence of alarm systems.
It includes mental or physical health threats due to insufficient natural or artificial lighting. Inhabitants can face complications like vision issues, mental stress due to strain in eyes, or potential intruder’s entry mentioned above.
18. Personal hygiene, sanitation, and drainage
Any issue due to:
- Inappropriate sanitation and drainage
- Lack of proper cleaning measurements
- Threats to mental health due to the above-stated conditions
A lack of facilities that restrict excessive sharing and improper discharge of fluids can be the primary cause.
19. Falls associated with bath and shower
It encounters all the risks and threats to physical health from falling in the bathroom or shower. The fall can be on the same level or from higher ground. Mostly the inappropriate placement of the bathtub or shower in the bathroom can cause inconvenience or hindrance.
20. Danger of falling from stairs and steps
Falling risk of an individual to a surface with a change in the level of more than 300 mm between grounds. Any kind of fall from stairs and ramps inside or outside the house is considered under this category.
21. Falling on a flat surface
It involves the risk of falling on the floor, yard, path, walkways, or corridors. This threat is applied to the fall that occurs between grounds with a change of level below 300 mm.
22. The danger of falling from one story to another or ground, like out of windows
It is the risk to physical health or life by falling from a ground more than 300 mm above the landing surface. It contains falling from the window, balcony, or roof inside or outside the building. Falls from stairs, steps, ramps, or ladders don’t count under this section.
23. Structural collapse & unstable housing elements
The collapse probability of the entire building or a part of it is considered as a potential risk to life. It can be due to improper fixation, repair, or mild natural calamity.
24. Physical strain while working on amenities
These are the physical strain due to different operations regarding the house’s functionality. The strains can occur while working on heavy doors, poorly sliding windows, or moving any other residence amenities.
25. Fire and fire safety
It regards any threats of life by (accidental) fires or smoke. The uncontrolled fire caused by the ignition of the fuel, solid fuel, in the kitchen or by a short circuit in any electrical appliance is counted in this section.
The risk of life due to an explosion or debris created by it. In other words, any injury or death by partial or entire building collapse due to the explosion is also addressed here.
27. Electrical hazards
The issues may occur due to electrical shock or burns by an electrical appliance. However, the burning due to flames created from an electrical failure is not considered under this category.
28. Hot surfaces & materials
These are the problems from hot surfaces and materials that can cause burns, scalds, or bruises. They can be caused by skin contact with flames or hot materials like solids, water or non-water-based liquids, or vapours.
29. Collision & entrapment
It involves threats of trapping a body part(s) in any part of the house, such as doors or windows. It also contains an injury by potential collision with any feature, like doors, windows, walls, low ceilings, or other surfaces.
If the condition doesn’t meet any of the required criteria, the tenants should inform their landlord. Afterward, the landlord is considered responsible for the repair and should fix it as soon as possible, as stated in the act.
There are some exceptions when the landlord won’t be as responsible for the fix. These situations include:
- The tenant has behaved irresponsibly or illegally and created a problem
- The problem is due to any natural or unforeseen phenomenon (often referred to as “act of God”), like an earthquake, flood, storm, or tsunami
- Anything in possession of the tenant causes the problem
- The owner doesn’t get permission (yet) from the property owner for the repair
- If the rental is not issued to an individual but, for example, to a local authority or educational institution
Moreover, if tenants know about some issue and haven’t inform the landlord, it’s advised to tell him immediately. We recommend inform in written form, such as a text, letter, or email, that tenant can use as proof for contacting.
How to use the Homes Act?
- If the problem is still unsolved, contact your landlord again in a written format, and save a copy. It will help to come to an agreement or to show it later in court.
- If you go to court, read the guidelines thoroughly before applying. N1 Form will help to make smaller claims, but larger claims will need more information.
- If you don’t have enough evidence, contact your local council’s environmental health department.
- The evidence you will need in the court includes:
- A copy of your written requests (letters or emails) for repair to your landlord.
- Problem’s photos
- A medical note that points towards any mental or physical inconvenience due to the problem
- List of items you requested to replace
- Proof of your recent payments to your landlord or your tenancy agreement’s copy
- A report from any expert you pay to analyze your problem (if any). It will strengthen your case in court.
- This evidence will be sent with your form along with three local county court copies.
- After submission of all forms, you will receive paperwork and the date of hearing, a copy of which you also have to send to your landlord.
What can happen in court?
The court will analyze both situations and may order the landlord to fix the issue immediately. Moreover, the court can also order them to pay you the compensation for your difficulty, the value of which entirely depends on judges or jury analysis. It can even order the landlord to partially or completely pay your legal costs. If the landlord evicts you, contact your local council immediately.
If you win the case, the court will order your landlord to perform either one or both of the below situations:
- Fix the required issue and make the house fit for habitation
- Pay you some compensation, that depends on the court
But if you lose the case, you need to pay some cost. In that case, talk to your solicitor or local council.
How can landlords make sure they comply with the act?
Not much has changed for landlords and property managers. They still need to invest in repairs required by the law.
But the most significant efficiency gains can be achieved in the way property inspections are reported and how they communicate with tenants.
For companies managing several properties, it is beneficial to standardize the whole process of inspecting, reporting, and contract signing. Thanks to standardization, landlords can prevent mistakes that may occur at any stage of a tenancy.
For example, if the landlord doesn’t use a checklist during a move-in & move-out inspection, it is easy to forget to check all the necessary inventory. Later, this can lead to an argument with the tenant about the original state of an item. That’s why it’s also beneficial to keep photo-documentation of a flat or house before a new tenant moves in.
As a lot of paperwork and documentation is required when renting out a property, it’s safer to standardize checklists and procedures at the very beginning to ensure compliance across the board.
What are landlord requirements?
Along with the 29 circumstances mentioned earlier, the landlord also has to fulfil a few requirements given below:
- The house should have perfectly working smoke alarms
- The house should have perfectly working carbon monoxide detectors
- All the electrical instruments and appliances should be inspected and tested
Property management checklists
Landlords can use paper checklists or start to use digital forms for property inspections, management or reporting. But while paper is a standard in the industry for decades, digital inspections are becoming more popular by the day. They make it easier to store documentation, include photos, or share reports immediately with tenants.
Whichever format you use, always make sure that the questionnaires you use are up-to-date and comply with the actual regulation. To start with a digital property inspections, you can download a free checklists designed for various property management processes.
They will allow you to easily customize the form anytime you need. For advanced features like smart questions, conditional formatting, or CRM integrations you can integrate resco.Inspections as property maintenance system into your operation.
Additional tips for landlords
- Perform a thorough investigation of the habitat for any flaw, technical or electrical failure, or potential danger to the tenant.
- Respond immediately accordingly to the situation and fix it in time.
- Take a complete inspection before any tenant moves in.
- Regularly analyze the property and keep everything in check.
- Send a prior notice of any checking or repair to the tenant.
- Keep a copy of maintenance or repair invoices.
- Respond to any tenant complaint as soon as possible.
Fitness for Human Habitation (FFHH) act summary
The FFHH act is in force for just two years now, but the benefits and rights it brings to tenants are already visible. It is yet another push to further increase the industry standards, rather than a scary regulation.
And digitalization opens the door to new efficiencies for all involved. With better reports, standardized checklists, or effective online communication, there can be fewer disputes regarding tenancy than ever before.
You can use free predefined templates to start your digital journey straight away. Utilize the move-in & move-out inspections or asbestos safety inspections template (the HHSRS standards also require the asbestos check). You can also try Resco Inspections for free, simply by starting a free 30-day trial.