A property is unfit for human habitation if living there could cause you or anyone else in your household serious harm. Examples include problems with damp, a lack of ventilation and issues with the drainage.

If you are a tenant and you are concerned about the state of your rental property, please read on. We have listed all the situations when a property might be deemed ‘unfit for human habitation’, and what you should do about it.

Housing disrepair solicitors

If you would rather speak to our housing disrepair lawyers, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors for a free initial enquiry. We can explain your legal rights. If possible, we will also help you claim housing disrepair compensation.

What makes a house unfit for human habitation UK?

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 took effect in England on 20 March 2019. The law stipulates that a rental property is not fit for human habitation if ‘it is not reasonably suitable for occupation’ because:

  • The building has been neglected and is in a bad condition
  • The building is unstable
  • There is a serious problem with damp
  • It has an unsafe layout
  • There is not enough natural light
  • There is 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 is difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up

In practice, this means that there could be a problem with any of the following 29 things:

  • Damp and mould growth
  • Excess cold
  • Excess heat
  • Asbestos and manufactured metal fibres
  • Biocides (chemicals that treat mould)
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead
  • Radiation (from radon gas, which is airborne or in water)
  • Uncombusted fuel gas (leaks in gas appliances)
  • Volatile organic compounds (chemicals which are gases at room temperature)
  • Crowding and space
  • Entry by intruders (such as not having a lock on your front door)
  • Lighting
  • Domestic hygiene, pests and refuse (including inadequate provision for disposal of waste water and household waste)
  • Noise
  • Food safety
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage
  • Water supply
  • Falls associated with bath or shower
  • Falls associated with stairs and steps
  • Falls on the level (danger of falling on a flat surface)
  • Falls between levels (danger of falling from one level to another, for example, falls out of windows)
  • Electrical hazards
  • Fire and fire safety
  • Hot surfaces and materials
  • Collision and entrapment
  • Explosions
  • Physical strain associated with operating amenities (i.e. very heavy doors)
  • Structural collapse and falling elements

What should you do if your rental property is unfit for human habitation?

If your property is unfit for human habitation, here is a step-by-step guide detailing what you need to do.

Step 1 – check that you are covered by the law

Tenants in England are protected by the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act if they:

  • Live in social or privately rented houses and flats; and
  • Have a tenancy with a fixed term of less than seven years; and
  • Are not in a fixed term private tenancy that began before 20 March 2019

The law does not apply to:

  • Lodgers
  • People who live in temporary accommodation
  • Some property guardians
  • Tenants with a fixed term tenancy of seven years or more

Step 2 – check that the property is actually unfit for human habitation

If the law applies to you, check that your property is actually considered ‘unfit for human habitation’. You have to prove two things:

  • That the property has one of the problems outlined above (we have listed them again below for clarity); and
  • This problem is so bad that it is not safe for you, or members of your household, to live there

If your case does go to court, then the judge will want to establish both points. You (or your solicitor) will have to provide evidence that shows what the issue is, and why this makes it unsafe for you to live there.

To remind you, your rental property could be considered unfit for human habitation if:

  • 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 is not enough natural light
  • There is 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 is difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up

Step 3 – tell your landlord about the problem

Next, tell your landlord about the problem, if you have not already done so. Your landlord cannot be expected to remedy the issue if they do not know about it. Email or text your landlord (or your letting agent) and tell them exactly what the problem is. Include photos if it helps you to explain the situation better. Keep all the correspondence between yourself and your landlord or letting agent as evidence.

Step 4 – give the landlord a reasonable amount of time

Once you have told your landlord or letting agent, you have to give them a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem.

If there is a valid reason why the landlord cannot fix the problem, then you may have to wait a little longer. This includes if the landlord cannot get permission from the owner of the building to carry out the work, or your landlord cannot get planning permission.

Also, you may not be able to pursue action under the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act if:

  • You or another tenant caused the problem
  • The problem can be attributed to faults with your own possessions
  • The problem was caused by something beyond your landlord’s control, such as fires, storms and floods

Step 5 – speak to our housing disrepair solicitors

If you think that…

  • The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act applies to you; and
  • Your rental property is not safe to live in; and
  • You have told your landlord/letting agent about the problem; and
  • Given them a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem; and
  • Your landlord does not have a valid excuse for refusing to fix the problem

…then you should contact our housing disrepair solicitors straightaway. In fact, you can contact us even if you are not sure about all of the above. We appreciate that the law can be confusing, particularly with regard to who it applies to, when your landlord might be excused and what actually constitutes a ‘unfit’ rental property. We are on hand to answer all your questions.

When you contact us for a free enquiry, we will ask you details about your rental property and what action you have taken to remedy the issue to date. We can then explain the options open to you.

If you have grounds for a claim

If we think that your landlord is in the wrong, we will help you make a civil claim. We will gather all the evidence needed to support your case. If we cannot resolve the matter with your landlord directly, there will be a court hearing. You need not worry – we will represent you in court, presenting your case to the judge.

If the judge agrees that you were renting a property that was unfit for human habitation, you will be awarded compensation for your damages. The judge can also order your landlord to put the problem right. If your landlord or letting agent still refuses, they will face enforcement proceedings. You may be able to claim from your landlord for emotional distress.

Should I withhold my rent if my property is unfit for human habitation?

You should keep paying your rent, even if you think your property is unfit for human habitation, or we have told you that it is. This seems unfair, but if you do not pay your rent, you will have breached the terms of your tenancy. That gives your landlord grounds to evict you. Continue to pay your rent and allow us to recover the money as part of your compensation settlement.

Speak to our housing disrepair solicitors

Is your property unfit for human habitation? Get a free assessment from our housing disrepair solicitors today.

Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

You can also email us on enquiries@ashmanssolicitors.com or complete our Free Online Enquiry Form and we’ll be in touch soon.