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Yearly Archives: 2020

Extension of The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018

Leaking Ceiling

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 (‘the Act’) came into force on 20 March 2019. This Act created a duty on social housing landlords, private residential landlords, and letting agents acting on their behalf (by implying a covenant in new tenancy agreements made on or after the 20 March 2019 for a term of less than seven years) to ensure that a property is ‘fit for human habitation’ both at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout.

For more detail on the Act, take a look at our previous post here.

From 20 March 2020 the Act will apply to all existing tenancies with terms of less than seven years.  This means that existing periodic tenancies will be subject to an implied covenant that the dwelling will be fit for human habitation on 20 March 2020 and will then remain fit for human habitation during the rest of the term.

Landlords may have to make improvements and not just carry out repairs to put and keep the property in a fit state for human habitation. The obligation to ensure that a property is ‘fit for human habitation’ extends to the dwelling and all parts of the building (including any common or shared areas) in which the landlord has an estate or interest.

In determining whether a property is fit for human habitation, the Act amends the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 by incorporating the hazards set out in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to the existing nine hazards listed in the 1985 Act. The courts must decide if the property is so far defective in one or more of these matters that it is not reasonably suitable for occupation.

If a landlord does not comply with these obligations, the tenant can sue the landlord directly for breach of its tenancy agreement. Several exceptions may apply if the property is substandard due to the actions of the tenant, or for a reason outside of the landlord’s control, or if reasonable attempts by the landlord to obtain consent from a third party for works were made but consent was not obtained.

Whilst this Act extends to England and Wales, its practical changes only affect properties in England as similar obligations affecting landlords in Wales are dealt with under the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016.

Here at Simply-Docs our property templates were updated to reflect these legislative changes when the Act came into force for all new tenancies made on or after the 20 March 2019. Our property templates can therefore be used for all existing tenancies of less than seven years from the 20 March 2020. We have also published a Guidance Note on the Act which can be found here.

Preparing Your Business for the Coronavirus

Nurse with Blood Sample

The current strain of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, is part of the same family of viruses that includes the common cold and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). There are now three confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK and the outbreak has spread across China and to at least 18 countries globally.

If the new strain of coronavirus follows the same pattern as the SARS outbreak in 2003, it may be that the impact on the UK is quite limited. Coronavirus is not, however, an issue that employers can just ignore. At present, the risk level is assessed as being low to moderate, but the situation is evolving all the time. Providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees is a legal requirement and employers should consider the following:

  • In general terms, the government advice is for people who may be infected by the coronavirus to take simple, common-sense steps to avoid close contact with other people as much as possible, much as they would with other flu viruses.
  • If any employees are required to travel to China, employers should be sure to follow up-to-date government advice (see advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office). Consideration should be given to cancelling visits to affected areas and assessing whether any meetings could be done via electronic means such as Skype or other online video meetings instead.
  • Business continuity plans should be reviewed.
  • Where employees have recently returned from China, consider allowing them to work from home until it is certain that they are not infected.
  • Good hygiene standards should be enforced across businesses with clear hand-washing instructions displayed in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • In the event that coronavirus spreads rapidly in the UK, employers will have to review sickness absence policies and add instructions to follow if employees believe they may have been exposed to the virus.

Advice on infection prevention and control for healthcare providers, including care homes, can be found here on the GOV.UK website.

Updated on 6 February 2020 with new number of confirmed cases in the UK.

Ethical Veganism is a Protected Characteristic

Employment in Focus

Earlier this month, an employment tribunal ruled that ethical veganism is a non-religious philosophical belief that should be protected under the Equality Act 2010. For a belief to be protected under the Act, it must meet several tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, being compatible with human dignity, and not conflicting with the rights of others.

The case concerned a charity worker, Jordi Casamitjana, who claimed he was unfairly dismissed because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism. An ethical vegan is defined as someone who not only follows a vegan diet but also opposes the use of animals for other purposes. Casamitjana is taking his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports, to an employment tribunal following his dismissal.

Having established that veganism is a philosophical belief, the case will now be taken to a second, full hearing to establish the reasons for Casamitjana’s dismissal. Casamitjana says he was dismissed by the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested in companies involved in animal testing, whereas the charity maintains he was sacked for gross misconduct.

As this is a first instance decision and may yet be appealed, it is not enough to have a binding effect on other tribunals and each subsequent case will depend on its own facts. However, in light of this ruling, employers may wish to review how they support ethical vegans in their business and consider if any changes are required.

New Draft Regulations on Mandatory Electrical Safety Checks

Electrical Checks

Further to our blog post in October last year (which can be found here), the Government has now published The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which impose duties on private landlords of residential properties in England in respect of electrical safety standards.

These regulations require approval from both houses of parliament before they are made into law.

Most tenancies are caught by the regulations, although a number of tenancies including long leases, tenancies granting a right of occupation for a term of seven or years or more, social or resident landlords, holiday lettings, care homes, and licences for lodgers (where the occupier is sharing accommodation with the landlord) are excluded. The draft regulations require private landlords in England to:

  • Ensure that the electrical safety standards (the standards for electrical installations in the 18th edition of the Institution of Engineering and Technology wiring regulations (BS7671:2018)) are met when the premises are let under a tenancy;
  • Ensure that a qualified person inspects and tests every electrical installation in the premises at intervals of no more than 5 years and produces a report to the landlord (some reports only last a year and so landlords will need to check the length of the report before commissioning a report);
  • Carry out the first inspection and test before a tenancy commences on or after 1 July 2020 and before 1 April 2021 for existing tenancies (entered into before the date this legislation comes into force);
  • For existing tenancies, supply a copy of the report to each tenant within 28 days, and if requested by the local housing authority, within 7 days of request;
  • Supply a copy of the most recent report to a new tenant before occupation, or any prospective tenant within 28 days of a request from the prospective tenant;
  • Keep a copy of the report and give it to the person carrying out the next inspection; and
  • Carry out further investigative or remedial work within 28 days of the report or within the period specified in the report and supply written confirmation of completion of such further investigative or remedial work to the tenant and local housing authority within 28 days of this work being carried out.

If landlords fail to carry out further investigative or remedial work (where the work is not urgent) the local housing authority will serve a ‘remedial notice’ on the landlord. The landlord then has 28 days to make the improvements or will be given 21 days to object.

If the landlord doesn’t make the necessary improvements or the remedial work is urgent, the local housing authority can access the property with the tenants’ permission to do the work. If the tenants refuse access, the landlord will not be in breach of this requirement. Landlords have the right to appeal against the decision of the local housing authority to take that remedial action.

Landlords who fail to comply with the regulations are liable to face fines of up to £30,000.

The regulations also seek to amend the electrical safety regulations which currently affect Houses in Multiple Occupation (‘HMOs’) in England to propose new mandatory conditions for licenses to ensure that every electrical installation is in proper working order and safe for continued use.

It has been indicated that the Welsh Government is currently working on producing its own regulations setting out the standards expected of rental properties under The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 and that regulations will require that a property is only fit if a landlord has:

  • Installed working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms; and
  • Undertaken an electrical safety test at least every five years.

In light of the draft regulations for England, the standards will be similar.

Here at Simply-Docs we will keep the progress of the draft regulations under review and will produce any necessary updates and/or content in due course.

Letting Agents and Money Laundering Regulations

HMRC Sign

New money laundering regulations come into effect on 10 January 2020, bringing certain letting agents (dealing with residential and/or commercial property) within the scope of money laundering legislation.

The Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Regulations 2019 were passed on 20 December 2019. These regulations implement the EU’s Fifth Money Laundering Directive and are due to come into force on 10 January 2020, leaving a very short window for letting agents to understand the Regulations and to implement changes in their businesses.

As a letting agent in England and Wales, if you fall within the following definition, you will need to register with HM Revenue and Customs and comply with existing money laundering regulations which require you to put in place a number of policies, controls, and procedures to anticipate and prevent your business being used by criminals to launder money and fund terrorism from 10 January 2020.

“Letting agent” means a firm or sole practitioner who, or whose employees, carry out letting agency work, when carrying out such work.

“letting agency work” means work:
(a) consisting of things done in response to instructions received from:
(i) a person (a “prospective landlord”) seeking to find another person to whom to let land, or
(ii) a person (a “prospective tenant”) seeking to find land to rent, and

(b) done in a case where an agreement is concluded for the letting of land:
(i) for a term of a month or more, and
(ii) at a rent which during at least part of the term is, or is equivalent to, a monthly rent of 10,000 euros or more.

Estate agents that also do letting agency work (which is caught by the latest regulations) should already be registered with HM Revenue and Customs and will not need to register again; however, you will be required to amend your current registration to include lettings.

As well as bringing certain high value lettings into the scope of the money laundering regulations, the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (Amendment) Regulations 2019 (‘the 2019 Regulations’) amend existing money laundering regulations to ensure that all regulated businesses understand the ownership and control of any company, legal arrangement, or trust structure of the customer. The 2019 Regulations also prescribe mandatory enhanced due diligence measures when a transaction appears to be “high-risk”.

Failure to comply with money laundering regulations can result in civil penalties or criminal prosecution. Senior managers and nominated officers can also be found personally liable for a breach of these regulations.

Here at Simply-Docs we are updating our existing Anti-Money Laundering Documents for Estate Agents (both residential and commercial property) and adding new Anti-Money Laundering Documents for letting agents dealing with high value lets to assist agents in complying with their obligations under the legislation.

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