RENTERS will soon have new powers to challenge their landlord over things like damp in their property.

The new laws are expected to come into force from March 20 after campaigning from MP Karen Buck and housing charity Shelter.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act allows disgruntled tenants to go to the courts if their accommodation is not maintained well enough including things like natural lighting, damp and ventilation.

A spokesman on the Shelter blog added: "The Bill revives legislation requiring homes to be ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy and to remain so throughout.

"Extraordinarily, this is a not a protection currently enjoyed by any renter – social or private – in England.

"Although landlords have responsibilities to do repairs, there are some glaring omissions – including, for example, damp and mould caused by the structure of the building.

"Crucially, the Bill will help private and social renter’s voices to be heard, by giving them the right to take their landlord to court over unfit and unsafe conditions like these in their home."

Shelter estimates there are currently almost one million rented homes with hazards that pose a serious risk to health and safety affecting around 2.5 million people.

Who and what is covered by the Act?

The Act covers all tenancies less than seven years in length in both the social and private rented sectors.

What does fit for human habitation mean?

A property will be unfit for habitation if there are serious defects in any of the following:

  • Repair
  • Stability
  • Freedom from damp
  • Internal arrangement
  • Natural lighting
  • Ventilation
  • Water supply
  • Drainage and sanitary conveniences
  • Facilities for preparation and cooking of food and for the disposal of waste water

The Act goes on to say: “The house shall be regarded as unfit for human habitation if, and only if, it is so far defective in one or more of those matters that it is not reasonably suitable in that condition”

Who is responsible for fitness for habitation?

In most circumstances the landlord. However, the Act does not make landlords responsible for damage or disrepair caused by the tenants’ behaviour.

Winsford Guardian:

What happens if a property is unfit for human habitation?

Provided it is their responsibility, the landlord should carry out the work needed to put the issue right although there are some exemptions. The landlord is not obliged to:

  • Rebuild or reinstate a destroyed building
  • Put right unfitness the tenant is responsible for causing
  • Carry out works which are the responsibility of a superior landlord, or for which they cannot obtain third-party consent

Claims may be brought before the court, where a landlord may be ordered to carry out works, and damages awarded.

Should I have any concerns about the new Act?

According to the National Landlords Association, most landlords should have nothing to worry about in respect of the new act.

A spokesman added: "A reasonably maintained property should not be deemed unfit.

"Only landlords of properties suffering serious disrepair issues should be affected, and these should be resolved irrespective of new legislation.

"However, private landlords responsible for regulated tenancies where repair and modernisation may have been limited by a sitting tenant need be aware of the Act’s provisions.

"As with any new regulations time will tell exactly how it is interpreted by the courts, and whether there are unintended consequences."