While manifesto promises are fashioned into draft legislation, or quietly shelved as the case may be for some proposals, the raft of new laws coming in 2020 will be accompanied by various existing Acts and Regulations taking wider effect as ‘phase-in’ periods come to an end.
The Tenant Fees Act 2019 applies to assured shorthold tenancies and licences to occupy housing in England which were entered into from 1 June 2019. But from 1 June 2020 the Act will apply to existing tenancies, meaning that clauses in older agreements which charge fees to tenants will become unenforceable.
One likely focus for conflict between agents and tenants will be ‘check-out fees’ which were taken when the tenant moved in. Such fees are now prohibited – but where the fee was charged before the Act applied to a tenancy, the tenant would not be entitled to a refund. That is, assuming that fee was truly incurred before 1 June 2020. However, if the agent has merely been holding the money, but the charge has not been incurred, it is certainly at least arguable that it will be unlawful to charge the fee after 1 June 2020, meaning that the money will need to be returned to the tenant. This is fact-specific issue, meaning that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to whether agents can keep such check-out fees when they were paid in advance.
The ‘Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency’ standard (“MEES”) was set in the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015, which were various amended and delayed but started to apply to new tenancies in April 2018.
From 1 April 2020 MEES will apply to residential properties which are let on existing assured shorthold or fully assured tenancies, regulated tenancies or domestic agricultural tenancies. However, MEES does not apply to a property which is not legally required to have an EPC, meaning that if the property has been not been marketed or modified, in the past 10 years then MEES would not apply.
Where MEES applies to a residential property, if it has an F or G rating the landlord must improve the property rating to E by 1 April 2020 to, or register an exemption. In some circumstances landlords will be required to spend up to £3,500 on energy efficiency improvements if they wish to register an exemption.
Fitness for Human Habitation
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 implies a term into tenancy agreements that the landlord commits to ensuring that the property is fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy and during its term. This goes further than the statutory implied obligation for a landlord to keep residential properties in repair which was already implied by section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
The Homes Act currently applies to new tenancies from 20 March 2019, but from 20 March 2020 the new statutory implied term will apply to existing tenancies. This has been a cause of concern to social landlords, many of whom have been working hard in 2019 to bring properties up to the required standard. However, private landlords should also be taking the same steps. Some landlords will have got away with letting decrepit properties with significant design flaws by charging lower rent, or in places where the demand allows them to get away with providing substandard properties. The extension of the Homes Act to existing tenancies will leave such landlords facing claims if they do not take urgent remedial action.
HMO Minimum Room Size
The national minimum room size for England was created by the Licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Mandatory Conditions of Licences) (England) Regulations 2018 and applies to licences granted from 1 October 2018.
These regulations function by requiring local authorities to include the minimum room size as a licence condition. This means the minimum room size has been phased in as licences are granted and renewed, and that process will continue in 2020.
The regulations also provide for local authorities to give landlords time to comply with the size standard. That period may be up to 18 months, meaning that for many landlords the minimum room size will finally take effect fully in 2020.