Condensation – are you breaking the law?

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act – How does it affect you?

Do you manage property for a Housing Association, Letting Agent or as a private landlord? You could be breaking the law and not even know it.

On 20 March 2019, the new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act came into force. The act amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require all landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout.

The scenario is common – tenant occupies property, reports a damp and mould problem and the landlord is asked to investigate. The usual debate ensues – tenants are drying clothes everywhere, not opening windows etc. etc. and the landlord has provided a dehumidifier, or a new extractor fan, and the problem is still there. This must be the tenant’s problem.

The law defines the following as being two of the reasons a property is classed as not fit for human habitation –

– Serious damp problems
– Insufficient ventilation

The key part is the insufficient ventilation. Why?

Firstly, let’s look at what is ‘sufficient ventilation’. Almost every case we are involved in includes guesswork – “There’s extractor fans in already”. “There’s a dehumidifier in the property”. “Trickle vents have been installed”.

For some reason it doesn’t seem to be commonly known that Approved Document F (which is the law) sets out the minimum levels of ventilation required.

In the last 12 months, we are yet to inspect one property that meets these minimum requirements. You could put this down to the fact that those that are meeting requirements probably don’t have a condensation problem! The problem is that most of the time the landlord is unaware.

Here is an example –

We were called last week to a 00s built property suffering from “damp and mould”. The housing company as well as several other parties had commented that there was adequate ventilation to the property in the form of extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom.

We visited the property and found the fans to be intermittent – the kitchen fan recorded a reading of 4l/s on our Anemometer (a tool used to record flow rates of ventilation) and the bathroom recording 2.5l/s.

Here is what Approved Document F sets out as a minimum requirement for this property –

– The property should have a minimum overall flow rate of 17l/s (currently 6 l/s)
– As an intermittent fan the kitchen fan should have been performing at 60l/s (currently less than 4l/s)
– As an intermittent fan the bathroom fan should have been performing at 30l/s (currently 2.5l/s)
– The doors should have a minimum 10mm air gap at the bottom (currently none)
– The fans should be serviced (no servicing has been carried out)
– At installation the fans should have been commissioned, flow rates tested and recorded, and the installations should have been notified to building control. None of this had been done.

Therefore we were able to quickly ascertain that the property was not meeting the ventilation requirements set out in the law and that the ventilation must be upgraded.

Luckily this occupier took the complaint to the landlord first, rather than to one of the many no win no fee companies that are popping up. If they had gone there first, they could have sued the landlord, and probably won.

What does the change in the law mean?

The difference between the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act and the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 are minimal, however the big difference is that the tenants can now take directly take the landlord to court.

There are no win no fee companies popping up all over – almost like the PPI period – so I contacted one of these companies posing as a tenant with mould problems in my home. I was told that they could sue the landlord for me, I would be awarded several thousand pounds, but most importantly I should make no further communication with my landlord otherwise I would be liable for any legal fees should the case fall through. If I was a landlord, I would be very worried.

As a landlord, what can you do to avoid ending up in court and paying out lots of money?

Quite simple – contact the PCA (Property Care Association) and instruct a member of the RVG (Residential Ventilation Group) to visit your property, and ensure you are being compliant with the law. It will go a long way to avoiding a visit to court, and will also probably cure that damp problem that never seems to go away!

Residential Ventilation Group

It’s not all doom and gloom. We have a landlord who has worked with us to install their ventilation and still had a damp problem. We visited and found the tenants to be turning off the extractor fans and closing trickle vents. We tested and recorded ventilation, did some data logging to confirm that they were switching them off, and we wrote a report to the tenants solicitor providing all of our evidence that the landlord was doing their bit – this time it was down to the tenants.

The tenant’s solicitor had no choice but to accept this and rejected their case. Result!

Take the guesswork out of it before it’s too late!