GUIDANCE ON PROPERTY CONDITION STANDARDSV1-JC-25082015

This Guidance, which primarily focuses on England and Wales, gives details of applicable standards for property conditions for residential rented accommodation. If a private landlord asks what they have to do to fully comply with their legal obligations then the short answer is that they need to comply with the Ideal set out in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), as well as making sure that the structure and exterior of their property is in repair, and the installations in the property for the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation, as well as space heating and heating water are in repair and proper working order. When it comes to fire safety, then compliance with the LACORS Guidance should also mean that any legal obligations are observed. The HHSRS Ideal covers a multitude of health and safety aspects, as can be seen if you look at Appendix 1 listing out a comprehensive description of what should be done. Different requirements can apply according to the type of property encountered. For example there are additional requirements in relation to flats and particularly houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). For Appendix 1 - click here.

Whilst this guidance concentrates primarily on the private rented sector (PRS) in England and Wales, it gives details of other standards, both those applicable in the case of social housing (local authorities and housing associations) but also elsewhere in the British Isles. The reason why this is done is because there are often calls made for extending landlord responsibilities for PRS properties by reference to other standards, particularly the Decent Homes Standard in England (or its Welsh equivalent) or even the repairing standards applicable in Scotland. This Guidance summarises these standards so that a comparison can be made to see what additional liabilities this would apply to PRS landlords were they to be imposed. Likewise, there are suggestions that a general standard of fitness for human habitation may be imposed, particularly in Wales. The implications of this are also set out.

With a myriad of different standards of this kind this can be very confusing so this Guidance is intended to look at the different aspects of property condition explaining how each will apply.

Introduction

Various standards of attainment for property conditions are either laid down or are suggested, and these differ according to varying circumstances. The purpose of this guidance is to outline the scope of these different standards and describe the circumstances where they currently apply. It also addresses proposals put forward for change.

Property conditions can be applied in all tenures, whether owner occupied, the social sector or the private rented sector, but this note is primarily about enforcing standards in the private rented sector (PRS).

This Guide focuses on the different standards which can potentially apply in England and Wales and there is reference to Scotland as well because of the possible application of the Scottish standard in Wales. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are also considered briefly.

What are property conditions about?

There are essentially six situations where standards relating to property conditions are applied -

  • Repair
  • Health
  • Safety
  • Amenities and facilities
  • Comfort
  • Decorative state

Standards are applied for different reasons but, inevitably, there is overlap. For example excess cold is addressed to prevent adverse consequences to health but at the same time it facilitates comfort. Property conditions affect not only tenants but also residents and visitors.

Different requirements can apply to single dwellings, flats and houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

How are property standards enforced?

In the PRS there are two main ways in which property conditions can be enforced. Firstly through enforcement action by an enforcement authority normally the local authority, which can lead to a criminal prosecution or a penalty for non-compliance. Alternatively, they can be enforced by tenants primarily by civil action through the civil courts with the sanction for non-compliance being a claim for damages by the tenant (with the potential to set off any award against rent) or a specific order from the court to enforce compliance. Enforcement by a public authority depends very much upon resources and is often (but not always) complaint led. Civil action must be initiated by the tenant generally and the non-availability of legal aid is often a deterrent to any action being taken.

The different standards

This note looks principally at the following standards -

  • The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
  • Implied repairing obligations.
  • Fitness for human habitation.
  • The Decent Homes Standard (applicable in England).
  • The Welsh Quality Homes Standard.
  • The Scottish Repairing Standard.

Other standards are also mentioned.

The rest of this Guidance on Property Condition Standards contains information on:

  • Building Regulations
  • Improvements v Repairs
  • When standards apply
  • The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
  • Landlord's statutory repairing obligations
  • Adequate home standards for human habitation
  • The Welsh Housing Quality Standard
  • Scottish Repairing Standard
  • Additional Enforcement Provisions - England and Wales
  • Northern Ireland
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

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