Local authorities have functions in relation to ensuring that buildings used for housing are of an acceptable standard. Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 (HA 2004) introduced the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS). The HHSRS covers a wide range of housing defects, and is much wider in coverage than its predecessor, the fitness for human habitation standard under the Housing Act 1985, which only covered a limited number of housing defects.
Part 1 of HA 2004 relates to the enforcement of standards in the private sector. Standards in local authority housing are dealt with in different ways, for example under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
The HHSRS is a means of providing a risk assessment of hazards in residential premises. There are two categories of hazard set out in section 2 to HA 2004. A hazard is any risk of harm to the health or safety of an actual or potential occupier of a dwelling or a house in multiple occupation (HMO, see Part 2 of the HA 2004) which arises from a deficiency in the dwelling or HMO or in any building or land in the vicinity (whether the deficiency arises as a result of the construction of any building, an absence of maintenance or repair, or otherwise) (see section 2(1) of HA 2004).
A local authority must take enforcement action where it considers that a category 1 hazard exists, and may take action where it considers a category 2 hazard exists. There are several types of enforcement action that can be taken by a local authority, depending on the circumstances:
- serving an improvement notice;
- making a prohibition order;
- serving a hazard awareness notice;
- taking specified emergency measures;
- demolition orders;
- slum clearance orders.
Provision is also made in Part 1 of HA 2004 in relation to appeals and in relation to guidance that can be issued by the Welsh Ministers on the exercise of a local authority’s enforcement action functions.
Once the new regime under Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 is in force, there are fundamental provisions which must be incorporated into all occupation contracts as fundamental terms. . Any occupation contract for a term less than 7 years must incorporate section 91 and 92 of the Act as a fundamental provision. This is a landlord’s obligation to ensure that a dwelling is fit for human habitation and an obligation to keep the dwelling in repair. This obligation applies from the occupation date of the contract and for the duration of the contract. This obligation extends to all types of occupation contracts and is not restricted to the private rented sector. Welsh Ministers may prescribe matters and circumstances to which to which regard must be had when determining whether a property is ‘fit for human habitation’. The Welsh Ministers may by regulation, impose requirements upon a landlord with regard to whether a property is fit for human habitation.