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HouseWorth
© GetAgent Limited 2024
  1. Blog
  2. What makes a property uninhabitable?
Advice about properties
23 November 2023

What makes a property uninhabitable?

Kimberley Taylor
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. Uninhabitable living conditions
  2. 2. Mould
  3. 3. Tenant rights and housing conditions
  4. 4. Taking your landlord to court
  5. 5. Talk to your local council
  6. 6. The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2019
  7. 7. Fixing the problem in a reasonable time
  8. 8. Exceptions
  9. 9. Housing health and safety checks:
  10. 10. If your problem isn't covered by the Homes Act
  11. 11. Summary: Health comes first!

Plenty of us have a housing horror story or two to tell, especially if we've lived in a rental property. Damp, mould, rats, the cold: they're all fairly common problems for tenants in the UK.

But when is enough enough? What constitutes a home unfit for human habitation?

There's a common misconception that landlords hold all the power when it comes to your tenancy agreement and rental rights as tenants. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, there are laws in place to ensure landlords don't rent out uninhabitable properties to tenants. They need to meet a certain level of comfort, safety and security - and above all, ensure the property doesn't cause any detriment to the health and welfare of those living there.

So what can you do as a tenant if you're living in a home unfit for human habitation? And what exactly makes a home uninhabitable?

What makes a property uninhabitable (UK)

In the UK, if a house is in disrepair, unhealthy, unsafe or hazardous, it's deemed uninhabitable. An uninhabitable property falls way below living standards, and shouldn't be lived in or rented out.

A rental property should be safe for tenants, which means it should provide adequate shelter from the elements, as well as a certain level of comfort. It's the landlord's responsibility to ensure a rental property meets certain requirements, otherwise the tenant has a right to make a claim for disrepair.

Uninhabitable living conditions

Of course, people may have differing opinions about what makes a property unfit for human habitation. What may be acceptable for one person may be unacceptable for another. But there are essential areas that landlords have to ensure are in good condition in order to protect the physical and mental health of their tenants.

The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) provides guidance for non-specialists (such as private landlords) to help ensure the properties they manage are habitable for tenants. They outline issues that make a rented property uninhabitable by having a detrimental effect on a tenant's mental health, as well as their physical well-being.

If the landlord fails to meet these standards, their tenants will be able to take them to court regardless of personal opinion.

HHSRS physiological requirements include:

  • Leaks and structural cracks.
  • Uninhabitable damp or severe mould growth.
  • An unsafe layout such as falling elements or the risk of falling from one level to another.
  • Poor heating.
  • Drain and lavatory issues.
  • Space and water heating damage.
  • Houses suffering from pest infestation such as rodents, insects and vermin.
  • Radiation and lead.
  • Poor ventilation, asbestos, biocides, radiation, and high levels of carbon monoxide.
  • Manufactured metal files.
  • Radiation (radon gas in the soil entering property).
  • Lead in pipes or water pipes.
  • Uncombusted fuel gas caused by leaks in gas appliances.
  • Volatile organic compounds (these are chemicals which are gases at room temperature).
  • Hot surfaces and materials.

Staying on top of these issues should minimise any physical damage to the tenant.

HHSRS psychological requirements include:

  • Excess noise.
  • There isn't enough natural light.
  • Overcrowding and little privacy.
  • Insufficient protection against intruders and burglars.

Landlords cannot have an excess amount of people living in the house to ensure their tenants have enough personal space and privacy. A room used to house one person must be a minimum of 6.51m. Anything smaller than this is an uninhabitable property.

Tenants should also have plenty of access to enough natural and artificial light. Landlords should install enough windows or extra light fittings to meet the minimum requirement.

Your tenants should also feel safe and protected in the house they're living in. It needs to be well secured against intruders, which means security installations are a must.

Read more about feeling safe in your new home.

Other key areas that need care and attention from landlords to ensure the health and safety of a tenant include:

  • An adequate water supply including hot and cold water.
  • Minimal falling hazards to ensure the tenant isn't at risk of physical injury.
  • Operating amenities like heavy doors that cause physical strain to the tenant.
  • Adequate drainage.
  • Fire hazards, electrical hazards and explosions.
  • The position and condition of appliances.
  • The structural integrity of the property and no risk of structural collapse or falling elements.
  • Domestic hygiene including pests and refuse.
  • Noise.
  • Food safety.
  • Personal hygiene, sanitation and drainage.

The house needs level surfaces, operating electrical fittings, and no naked wires or loose connections. Landlords also need to ensure any trip hazards like broken bannisters or sunken floorboards are fixed. There should be appropriate fire protection for tenants, and any fire blankets or extinguishers should be inspected yearly to make sure they're still operating efficiently.

If the landlord fails to meet these regulations, the house is deemed uninhabitable and violates the rights of any tenants living in their property.

Mould

Mould is a common problem for tenants, and can sometimes be unavoidable, especially for older properties in the winter months. However,

Tenant rights and housing conditions

Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1980 and the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, you have a number of rights and privileges when living in a rental property. These include:

  • You have the right to your landlord's contact information so you can get ahold of them if you need to.
  • You have the right to live in a home in a good state of repair.
  • You're protected from unfair eviction from the landlord.
  • You shouldn't be discriminated against based on gender, race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • You are entitled to comfort and peace in your own house without being disturbed by your neighbours or co-tenants.
  • If you paid for any repairs the landlord should have been responsible for, you're entitled to be paid back in full.
  • If you believe your rent is excessively high, or your landlord has increased your rent by an excessive amount, you have the right to challenge your landlord.

Taking your landlord to court

As a tenant, if you've already made several complaints to your landlord about the uninhabitable conditions of your rental property and they've failed to act, you have the right to take them to court.

First make sure you've spoken with them clearly about the concerns you have with the property. If they're failing to respond, make a formal complaint via letter to your landlord, offering as much evidence of the issue as possible to show how your mental or physical health is being affected.

Talk to your local council

If the issue still hasn't been resolved, reach out to the environmental health department at your local council to make a complaint. They'll be able to step in and enforce action (at no cost to you) from your landlord, especially in cases of disrepair that cause a risk to health and safety, harassment or illegal eviction.

Get help from a solicitor

If all of these steps fail to make any progress, you should contact a housing disrepair claims solicitor to help fix the issue. The court will then make a decision that the landlord must abide by. If the house is deemed uninhabitable, a court order will be made for the landlord to improve the property immediately, or pay compensation to the tenant.

The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2019

The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act (also known as the Homes Act) came into force on 20th March 2019 to help tenants who live in social or privately rented properties. It outlines how a property needs to meet a certain level of fitness for human habitation.

What type of property you live in and how you pay your rent doesn't affect your rights under the Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act. You can use the Homes Act immediately, so long as you signed your tenancy agreement on or after 20th March 2019. Your tenancy agreement also has to have a fixed term of less than seven years.

This new law ensured rental properties were safe, healthy, and free from things that could cause serious harm to tenants. It protects tenants from living in uninhabitable property conditions.

As such, if a rented property is deemed not fit for human habitation, tenants have the right to take landlords to court.

Properties not covered by the Homes Fitness for Human habitation Act

The Homes Fitness for Human Habitation Act doesn't cover those who have licences to occupy instead of tenancy agreements, for example lodgers, tenants living in temporary accommodation, and some property guardians.

However there will be other options available to you if you fall under any one of these categories and still deem your home unfit to live in. You can get advice from your local council, or organisations like Shelter or Citizens' Advice.

Fixing the problem in a reasonable time

Landlords must repair any problems with the building in a reasonable amount of time, though how much time they're granted will depend on the size and complexity of the problem.

If you live in social housing, your landlord may be held accountable by the Housing Ombudsman for the length of time it takes to fix or repair any issues with the building.

Exceptions

There are a few cases in which fixing an uninhabitable property doesn't fall to the landlord.

Problems caused by tenant behaviour

If the tenant has done something illegal or behaved irresponsibly, the landlord won't necessarily be responsible for any damage caused by their behaviour.

Events beyond the landlord's control

Events that the landlord can't control like fires, storms, floods and other natural disasters (sometimes referred to as acts of God), won't be covered by the Homes Act. You might be able to contact your local council for help if your landlord doesn't.

Possessions belonging to previous tenants

Landlords aren't responsible for maintaining or repairing possessions or furniture that used to belong to previous tenants. If it's not included in the inventory at the start of your tenancy, they won't be liable for repairing it.

Landlords are also exempt from repairs if they're not able to get permission from certain other people, for example if the local council doesn't approve the planning permission. You can ask for evidence that your landlord has requested permission, and can still get in touch with your local council for further help and advice.

Housing health and safety checks:

If you're a tenant about to move into a new rented home, make sure you check the following before signing a tenancy agreement. If any of the issues mentioned come up, the property could be deemed uninhabitable and you must talk to your landlord immediately.

  • If the property has been neglected, is unstable, or is in a bad condition.
  • It has an unsafe layout.
  • There's not enough natural light or enough ventilation.
  • There's a problem with the water supply, drainage or lavatories.
  • There's a serious damp problem.
  • It's difficult to prepare and cook food or wash up.

If your problem isn't covered by the Homes Act

If you think your property is uninhabitable but isn't covered by the Homes Act, you still have options. You can ask for help from Citizens Advice, Shelter, your local council, as well as a tenants' rights group or solicitor if you're having problems with your property.

If you live in a council or housing association property, you can make a complaint with the property managers.

Summary: Health comes first!

The bottom line? The wellbeing of tenants is the absolute top priority, and landlords have to ensure they're doing everything they can to manage a safe, protected, habitable property. If a property is uninhabitable, tenants have the right to talk to their local authority or local council, and in some cases, take their case to court.

Make sure you're aware of your rights as a tenant whenever you're moving into somewhere new. And as a landlord, make sure you stay on top of any issues that could make your property uninhabitable.

Not only does it keep your tenants safe and protected, it could seriously increase the value of your home as well! For an instant valuation of your property, check out our Online Valuation Tool here.

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