Why Some Of London’s Most Expensive Rental Properties Could Fall Foul Of A New Law

On March 20th the UK Government put The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act into effect, meaning rental landlords had a whole new set of obligations – and it could mean, even those at the high end of the rental market could be in for a shock.

The new act has been a long time coming to the rental market in the UK. It was written to replace The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985, which sets out a landlord’s obligations in respect to the condition of his or her property. The original act stipulated that rental properties had to be kept in a state of good repair. This generally meant that landlords could face legal problems if they failed to address issues like broken windows or faulty electrics. The new legislation offers more protections for tenants and seeks to ensure that not only are their properties in a good state of repair at all times, but that their homes are in a ‘livable’ condition.

There’s no specific definition of what ‘livable’ means, but the wording of the new acts sets out some handy examples, such as the requirement for ample natural light, good ventilation and freedom from damp and mold. In a city where basement flats and conversions are popular, this might prove to be more than a little problematic for some landlords.

A recent study conducted by Aspect, a leading London property maintenance firm found that more than half of London’s renters had experienced a health problem relating to the condition of their rental and more than one ten (11%) had complained of damp and mold causing them respiratory issues. The New Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act makes it easier for tenants to sue their landlord over such issues.

And these issues are in no way confined to the lower end of the rental market. Nick Bailey, spokesperson for Aspect, believes this kind of problems are worryingly common at the premium end of the market too.

“One of our tradespeople recently discovered a homeowner’s drinking water was being fed from a water storage tank rather than being connected directly to a mains supply. This had been done during extensive and very expensive refurbishment work on the property. You should never drink water from a storage tank as they provide the right conditions for bacteria, such as Legionella, to exist. Our tradespeople warned the customer they should change their plumbing as soon as possible and to not drink water from their taps for the meantime.”

London’s high property prices are also indirectly responsible for some of the health problems identified in the report. The city consistently ranks among the most expensive cities in the world to buy property and that is reflected in rental prices, which are often more than double the national average for the UK. This incentivize property owners to convert large houses into multiple smaller apartments. And this is where problems can emerge, even for well-intentioned landlords.

Nick Bizley explains: “Our tradespeople regularly sees poorly ventilated homes as a direct result of landlords converting large properties into apartments without allowing for sufficient ventilation in each subsequent property. This leads to damp, which causes mould, which is proven to have a detrimental impact on health.”

While the new legislation is designed mainly to protect lower income renters from corner-cutting by landlords, it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts on the more luxury end of the housing market. Earlier in March 2019, London’s Daily Mail reported how residents in Eaton Square in Belgravia, one of London’s most expensive residential areas, had been forced to deal with a plague of rats. The pests had been displaced from nearby renovation works carried out to add basement levels to some of London’s most expensive properties. Under the new legislation, landlords are now responsible for keeping the common and communal areas of properties in a livable condition, as well as the dwelling itself. Which means that Eaton Square’s rat problem would see the landlords made liable if the pests made their way into any of the properties or common areas.