Your guide to the Decent Homes Standard
The government has launched a consultation on the introduction and enforcement of the Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector.
The "A Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper" outlined the government's plans to legislate and introduce a legally binding Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector (PRS) for the first time, under the Renters' Reform Bill. The government has now launched a consultation, seeking views on how it could introduce and enforce the standard in the PRS. The consultation will run until 14 October 2022.
The government shared in its press release on the white paper that "the conditions of more than half a million properties – or 12% of households – pose an imminent risk to tenants’ health and safety". Applying minimum standards to the sector for the first time, alongside the other proposals outlined in the bill, aims to "halve the number of poor-quality rented homes".
You can download a full overview of the proposals in our e-book, Renters' Reform Bill: Your guide to the "A Fairer Private Rented Sector" white paper.
How many private rented properties meet the Decent Homes Standard - and how much will it cost to upgrade?
The government consultation says that around 79% of properties in the PRS already meet the current standard, and therefore won't require any additional investment. However, that leaves 21% of properties that don't meet the standard and will need to invest in upgrades.
The government has shared no estimates on how much this may cost individual landlords. However, the consultation says that it expects "most landlords to be able to meet these costs."
A "cost cap" on the improvements to be made will also be considered, with an upper limit set for how much landlords are expected to contribute - although the consultation also asks for views on whether this would be appropriate, as the standard is about safety.
What does the white paper define as "decent"?
For the new minimum standards for rented housing, the government has outlined in its white paper that a "decent" home needs to be "free from the most serious health and safety hazards, such as fall risks, fire risks, or carbon monoxide poisoning".
This means that landlords will need to ensure their rented homes don’t fall into disrepair, and address problems before they deteriorate and require more expensive work.
Kitchens and bathrooms will need to be located correctly, adequate and not too old, with decent noise insulation. Landlords will also need to update their tenants facilities "before they reach the end of their lives", to keep them clean, appropriate, and useable - plus all homes will need to be warm and dry.
Alongside its plans for the new decent homes standard in the private rented sector, the government has also reiterated its intention to upgrade as many homes as possible in the private rented sector to an EPC band C by 2030.
The consultation also highlights that local councils will be given the ability to share "advice on pre-emptive work for properties that are likely to become non-decent in the near future."
How will the property portal help ensure compliance with the Decent Homes Standard?
The consultation outlines that private landlords will need to register their property on the Property Portal once live. This will help keep landlords informed and give tenants more visibility into the compliance of the property with the relevant standards.
It also proposes that landlords "use the Portal to self-declare whether the property is decent" and to declare any exemptions for their property - with a penalty of up to £30,000 for landlords that provide false or misleading information.
How will the standard be enforced?
Currently, local councils are obliged to identify any hazards in private rented properties and take enforcement action against the landlords.
The consultation proposes introducing "a legal duty on landlords to ensure their property meets the Decent Homes Standard." Any breach of the standard would therefore be considered a criminal offence, as well as a "banning order offence" - with certain exemptions, such as listed properties.
The white paper highlights how this will help councils "crack down on non-compliant landlords while protecting the reputation of responsible ones."
What does the existing Decent Homes Standard cover?
The standard and its rating system are currently under review, and currently covers all social housing, excluding leasehold and shared ownership properties, and outlines four criteria to define what is considered decent - criteria that private rental properties may be obligated to meet in the future. The review is due to close in autumn 2022.
Under the decent homes standard for social housing, aiming to "bring health benefits to tenants and reducing health inequalities", a property is considered a safe and decent home if it meets the following four criteria:
- It meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing
- It is in a reasonable state of repair
- It has reasonably modern facilities and services
- It provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort
How is the Decent Homes Standard currently assessed?
Properties need to be assessed under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to ensure they have no serious hazards.
There are 29 potential hazards assessed under this system. Each hazard is given a score.
Those with a score over 1,000 will be deemed serious, because they put the tenant's health or safety at risk, and won't meet the minimum standards criteria.
A 2021 report found that two million homes contain a serious hazard, with only 12% of those poor-quality homes owned by councils and housing associations.
If serious hazards are found, remedial action should be taken, unless this causes "disproportionate expense or disruption."
Landlords can wait until the property's next void period to make the home safe and decent if their tenant doesn't want the work to be undertaken, although tenants should be made aware of the risk that poses.
Ensuring a reasonable state of repair
The decent homes guidance also shares that homes with one or more "key" building components, or two or more "other" building components, that need replacing or major repair because they are old won't be classified as in a "reasonable state of repair".
Building components include the home's structure, other external elements such as the roof or chimneys, and internal services and amenities, such as kitchens or heating systems.
The National Housing Federation has proposed dropping "the distinction between ‘key’ and ‘other’ components" to avoid confusion over what falls into each category.
It also suggests replacing the age of a component as a factor and instead considering its condition and functionality, or taking into account the lifetime of the component.
Having reasonably modern facilities and services
This criteria requires kitchens to have adequate space and layout and to be 20 years old or less, and bathrooms to be appropriately located and under 30 years old.
There should also be adequate noise insulation, and space in the common entrance areas.
Some of the improvements to bring properties in line with this criteria may be challenging to make due to "physical or planning restrictions". If the relevant agency or body finds that it is impossible to do the renovations, the property won't fail this criteria.
On this point, the decent homes guidance notes that "demolition and new build may be more appropriate" in some instances, and therefore renovations won't be necessary.
Providing a reasonable degree of thermal comfort
Properties need to have efficient heating and effective insulation to meet this criteria.
The heating systems must be able to heat two or more rooms in the home and, even if the system covers most of the house, landlords need to make sure the home is warm enough for their tenants under the HHSRS.
If a new heating system is installed, landlords should see this as a chance to increase the property's energy efficiency.
As the efficiency of oil or gas heating differs from other forms of heating, the level of insulation required also differs.
For oil or gas, cavity wall insulation or at least 50mm loft insulation is required. For electric storage heaters or solid fuel programmable heating, this is upped to 200mm for loft insulation.
The Decent Homes Standard review
Part one of the review into how fit for purpose the standard is for the social housing sector ran from Spring to Autumn 2021 and analysed if there's a need to change the current criteria.
In the new white paper, the government has committed to running pilot schemes "with a selection of local councils to explore different ways of enforcing standards and work with landlords to speed up adoption of the Decent Homes Standard".
This article is intended as a guide only, and should not be considered legal advice. For more information, visit gov.uk.