How does the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 affect letting agents?

The new Homes Act which was brought into effect on the 20th March 2019 and is already having an impact on not only on landlords, but also on letting agents, who under the new law can now be prosecuted if they don’t comply with the legislation set out to protect tenants from living in property which is deemed unsafe or unhealthy for habitation. This has created some concern among agents, particularly those who have fully-managed lets on their books. But what does it all mean, and what can we do to protect ourselves? Let’s take a look.

The Homes Act only affects landlords, doesn’t it?

Afraid not, no. As of the 20th March 2019, all landlords, both for the social housing and private housing sectors AND letting agents need to comply with the new laws. Failure to meet the requirements set out by the HHSRS can and will result in prosecution.

You might argue that in fact it should be the landlords responsibility to ensure that all of the standards are met, and they should be making their properties safe and habitable before they even get to the point where they are renting them out. But sadly, that’s not always what’s happening, and if you as an agent are not checking properties meet the criteria, or are not adequately responding to tenant concerns, it could very easily fall on your head if a local authority or surveyor finds you in breach of the new laws. If the landlord has appointed you to fully manage their properties, then you will need to take on the task of managing the checks and raising issues of health and safety to the landlord.

What does the HHSRS assessment cover?

Under the new Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018, local authorities will use something called the HHSRS Assessment to check for standards of health and safety within a property, to ensure that it meets the correct criteria, and is deemed fit for human habitation.

In all, there are 29 hazards which are considered in the assessment to deem a property unfit for human habitation; those are:

  • Damp and Mould Growth – including possible physical health issues, and threats to mental health.
  • Excess Cold – caused by inadequate heating, or poor insulation.
  • Excess Heat – caused by faulty heating systems, inadequate ventilation/insulation, or large expanses of glass.
  • Asbestos – exposure to manufactured mineral fibres, and possible danger of inhalation.
  • Biocides – used to treat timbers, infestations, or mould.
  • Carbon Monoxide – dangerous levels caused by faults or unmodernised systems.
  • Lead – as used in old paint and plumbing works.
  • Radiation – possible exposure from natural faults in the surrounding areas.
  • Uncombusted Gas – escaping gas from within the dwelling.
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – found in organic chemicals such as formaldehyde.
  • Crowding and Space – overcrowded living conditions, and their possible effects on mental health and disease cause by cramped sleeping, eating, and hygiene within the home.
  • Entry by Intruders – poor security arrangements, including damage to doors and windows, causing possible fear of intrusion leading to mental issues and danger to life.
  • Lighting – poor natural or artificial lighting, including the mental effects of lack of a view.
  • Noise – poor insulation against sound from outside the property, such as railways, busy roads, factories, and adjacent dwellings.
  • Domestic Hygiene – protection against pests and refuse, causing hazard to health, including structural damage, damage to surfaces, and other conditions which may harbour dirt of germs affecting health and safety.
  • Food Safety – inadequate storage facilities for food, preparation and cooking.
  • Personal Hygiene, sanitation and drainage – poor facilities for washing, clothes washing, sanitation and drainage.
  • Water Supply – hazard to health due to contamination of mains water supply into the property.
  • Falls associated with baths – inadequate flooring or support, causing possible falls or slips, causing injury.
  • Falling on level surface – uneven floors and paths, causing danger of trips or falls.
  • Falling on Stairs – danger of falls on internal or external stairs.
  • Falling between levels – danger of falls from balconies, landings, windows, accessible roofs etc.
  • Electrical Hazards – danger of shocks caused by faulty electrical systems, such as defective wiring, lose plug sockets etc.
  • Fire – danger of burns or smoke inhalation, caused by accidental fire from cooking appliances or defective heating or wiring.
  • Flames and Hot Surfaces – contact burns caused by contact with hot surfaces or flames, including scalds from hot water.
  • Collisions, cuts and strains – injury caused by architectural features, such as doors, windows, ceilings and walls.
  • Explosions – caused by build-up of gas within the property.
  • Position and Operability of amenities – injury or strain caused by badly positioned sinks, kitchen cupboards, switches etc.
  • Structural collapse or falling elements – injury caused by falling slates, tiles, brickworks, ceiling plaster, or other unsafe structural elements.

What action should I be taking as a letting agent?

It seems like there are a lot of things to consider there, but DON’T PANIC! In reality, the majority of us have good relationships with our landlords, and can be confident that we are taking all the right measures to ensure that we are working with them to create comfortable, safe environments for our tenants. Maintaining good communication between yourselves, your tenants, and your landlords is key in getting this right – and if you can ensure that all potential hazards and safety issues are kept under control, then you won’t need to take any further action.

BUT, you do need to be aware that the Homes Act holds us all liable when things go wrong, so vigilance is needed. The stakes here are high if we get it wrong, so be aware of that, and flag up anything which you are concerned about immediately. Don’t get caught out!