With house prices being what they are, the property rental market has never been more important. Increasing numbers of people with little prospect of themselves getting on the property ladder rely exclusively on private landlords to provide accommodation. In exchange for an agreed rent, the landlord takes responsibility for making sure that the occupied property is suitable and continues to be safe for those living there.
As part of these obligations, landlords (with limited exceptions such as with longer length tenancies) have a responsibility to ensure that a property is kept in proper repair. Given the wide range of obligations contained in legislation (such as section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985), common law duties and contractual obligations agreed between the parties at the start of the tenancy, it can be difficult to decipher exactly where any obligation starts and has subsequently been complied with. Equally these obligations do not always account for the varying degrees of urgency. For instance, the same issue of repair between two properties may have drastically different levels of urgency depending on occupation. Heating and hot water issues may be inconvenient to a set of tenants in their 30s but could be potentially life threatening to occupiers in poor health in their 80s.
Cases like Sternbaum v Dhesi  illustrate limits to the ability for the tenant hold the landlord to account for disrepair but do not address the major issue in making sure the property is reasonably safe for those occupying even if that may require a slight improvement to the property to do this. There has therefore been a move to address the ‘take it as it is’ approach to letting out a property. The previous obligations set out above still remain, however the varying nature of what a repair is, has meant a growing need for flexibility and so further teeth have been given to a pre-existing standard of housing.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a set of 29 hazards that can exist in a property. These hazards account for physiological requirements such as mould and damp, physiological requirements such as overcrowding, protection against infection involving hygiene and protection against accidents covering trip hazards etc. To provide some context to this, the case referred to earlier in this blog, Sternbaum v Dhesi, looked at the absence of a handrail and concluded that there was no disrepair because even if when designed there was a handrail, because it was not there at the start of the tenancy the landlord had no obligation to repair what was not originally included. The HHSRS could require the landlord to take action on this if it was determined that the absence of the handrail made the use of the stairs unsafe. Whilst this was not an option for the tenant at the time, now it would be following the implementation of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (The Act).
The Act enables private tenants to bring about claims against their landlords for failure to provide suitable living conditions and uses the HHSRS as the criteria for this. Now landlords can be required to improve a property if necessary to ensure compliance with the minimum standard required for housing conditions. This certainly does not give tenants the ability to make unfettered demands however; it does require the landlord to give consideration to these demands against the HHSRS standards before dismissing the repairs as unnecessary.
All new tenancies or extensions entered into after March 2019 and existing tenancies from March 2020 are covered and so landlord and managing agents should bear this in mind when letting out properties. These obligations are included with the usual caveats that the tenant is required to report the works, subsequently allow access and not have caused the damage themselves.
Blogs of this kind tend to make the issue appear very matter of fact and definitive. This is rarely the case with a significant amount of facts that would go in to determining the cause of the problem, the extent of the issue and the reasonableness of the action taken. Equally with a lot more tenants now working from home, these problems are more likely to be reported more quickly and urgently because tenants cannot escape the inconvenience by being in the office for most of the day. This inevitably leads to more disputes when works cannot be carried out instantaneously or where there is disagreement over the cause and relative inconvenience of the issue in question.
Should you need advice about this procedure or you require representation in a dispute of this kind then I can be contacted on [email protected] to provide a quote.
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.