Homes Act 2018 - Is Dampness back in the Spotlight?

With the great calamity that Brexit has turned into it has felt like nothing else is going on in the world, to such an extent that Cyclone Idai, where the death toll is expected to reach into the 1000s, has hardly had a mention! Amongst all this commotion it would have been easy to miss the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which has somewhat snuck under the radar.

We as an industry should not be missing this opportunity to get dampness in buildings very much back into the spotlight, nor should we forget about the consequences of not providing safe housing – we saw the results of this with Grenfell Towers in North Kensington on 14th June 2017.

So what is the Homes Act?

The Homes Act is a new law to make sure that rented houses and flats are ‘fit for human habitation’, meaning that they are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm.

Two of the parameters used to measure property standards for Fitness for Human Habitation include freedom from damp and suitable ventilation. Amazingly in this political climate, this act had cross-party support (if only Brexit was that easy!).

What is the Purpose of this Homes Act?

The purpose of the Act is to amend relevant sections of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, by extending its obligations to cover almost all landlords and to modernise the fitness for habitation test. Where a landlord fails to let and maintain a property that is fit for human habitation, the Act would give tenants a right to take action in the courts. The Act came into force last week (20 March 2019) and although no one on a current tenancy will be able to use it for another year and it also does not protect anyone with a tenancy longer than 7 years.

Essentially nothing Changes in the Homes Act

Essentially nothing changes – in relation to the standards of accommodation that the landlord provides, this Act remains unchanged. It still relies on the 29 Hazards listed in Schedule 1 of The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations 2005, to define why a property may not be fit for human habitation, but a new section – 9A – inserts a covenant between landlord and tenant that the property is, and will remain, habitable.

However, what this Act does do is provide tenants with a route to claiming compensation when a landlord fails to take steps to address the issue, without having to wait for the Council or Environmental Health to act.

There are still Exceptions for Landlords

Most of this Act only refers to England and whilst landlords are responsible for most things, there are notable exceptions;

  • Problems caused by tenant behaviour – meaning that the tenant has behaved irresponsibly or illegally, the landlord may not have to fix any problems caused by your behaviour
  • Fires, storms and floods which are completely beyond the landlord’s control (sometimes called ‘acts of God’)
  • If the landlord hasn’t been able to get permission from certain other people

It is without question that the first of these exceptions will provide the most contentious, especially with dampness and mould. As an industry we are all well aware of how dampness issues can sometimes be complex, defining when an issue is down to excessive moisture production, rather than adequate ventilation could prove a grey area.

Homes Act – Perfect Timing for our KTP Project

However, what can’t be questioned is how timely the combined KTP project between the PCA and UCL has proven to be. Here we are looking at a diagnostic tool that would help provide more detailed and actuate analysis, which will help remedy and prevent these issues!

Is Adequate Ventilation the Key?

Within the industry we are fully aware that condensation is the most common form of dampness in buildings within the UK. We at the PCA have also been vocal about our concerns in relation to ventilation not being installed and commissioned properly – a view which has been reaffirmed by a number of studies in recent years. In cases with condensation and mould it would be difficult for a landlord to argue that they have taken all the necessary steps to address the issue, when the measures taken do not comply with building regulations.

This is why we have set up a sector specifically for residential ventilation (Residential Ventilation Group), to ensure that landlords have a reference point for competent contractors and will further ensure that any works meet the requirements of the building regulations.

Will the Homes Act bring about Pre-tenancy Surveys?

Historically as an industry we have been reactive in dealing with issues once they have arisen. So, does the introduction of this Act present a demand for pre-tenancy dampness surveys which include a check of the provision of dampness and ventilation? Does it now allow for ongoing long-term relationships with clients, where works could be programmed proactively rather than reactively, and without a dependency on long term guarantees? This certainly should provide a path to follow for the future.

We all need to have a vested interest

This is by no means a comprehensive review and ultimately, this Act will only be quantified by case law as the degree of un-inhabitability is not quantified and the landlord has to be allowed reasonable time to rectify the issue. That said, we have already been made aware of a number of tenants and housing associations acting upon the new legislation which is a positive step forward.

All PCA members that deal with dampness should have a vested interest in this Act, in order to have informed discussions with their clients and capitalize on the opportunity and spotlight it brings to dampness in buildings.

More information on dampness