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Five Housing Disrepair Breaches We’re Likely To See More Of In Future.

The housing disrepair industry has been getting used to a new kind of headline in recent months. There has certainly been no short supply of Covid-19 related articles that aim to find solutions to immediate problems such as how to attend client meetings, court cases and home site visits whilst in lockdown and avoiding the risk of spread.

What’s been largely overlooked, however, is how Covid-19 as well as other huge environmental events like global warming will impact the type of cases lawyers will be expected to take on in the future.  

These seismic challenges – together with a long-list of new hazards brought to light through the Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018 – are conspiring to shape a ‘new normal’ in the housing disrepair sector.

So, what kind of additional cases will the housing disrepair industry see more of in the future, that it may not have seen so much of in the past?

Based on my site visits to properties in recent months as well as time spent contemplating world and industry events, here are my top five predictions for the FFHH complaints in addition to S.11 disrepair:

1. Noise

As the virus dictates that we all spend more time indoors, we will find more tenants seeking compensation for noise-related breaches coming from both inside properties and outdoors. There will be more disputes between neighbours over inconsiderate noise levels as people use their homes for more varied purposes – to work and to socialise for instance – and this is likely to cause tension.

As a result, housing disrepair lawyers are likely to see an increase of claims made for anxiety-related issues caused by noised, including sleep deprivation and other related illnesses that come with stress.

Signs to look out for: Whereas landlords cannot be held directly for noisy neighbours, they are obliged to ensure their own properties are properly insulated against noise pollution. Your surveyor should look out for paper-thin walls, ill-fitting windows, burglar or fire alarms on the premises that are likely to go off in the night and inappropriate flooring – hard floor laid upstairs, for instance.

2. Excessive heat

Spring 2020 was unseasonably warm. But with the UK’s temperature expected to continually rise in the coming years due to global warming, they are perhaps something we’re all going to have to get used to.

As a result, we’re going to want our homes to be built to keep us cool. Having to be inside means tenants will really notice if their properties fall short on ventilation, fail to provide access to outdoor space or come with windows that don’t open.

A lack of cavity wall insulation can contribute to excessive indoor heat in the summer as the temperature within a property will not be properly regulated. Similarly, over-insulation can create temperature problems within a property and, as a result, landlords may be asked to remove it.

Signs to look out for: Excessive heat can cause a range of problems including heat exhaustion, cramps, respiratory diseases, confusion, fainting as well as problems sleeping and going about daily life.

Among other things, your surveyor should check the property for windows that don’t open fully, blocked or over-clogged vents, too much insulation and too much exposed glass – in a conservatory or used in bi-fold doors, for instance – as this can raise indoor temperatures to unforgiving levels.

3. Air pollution

With increasing awareness around air pollution and the dire implications this can have on our health, tenants are likely to want reassurance that their homes are protected against damage from harmful VOCs and PM particles.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) studies of human exposure to air pollutants, indoor air may have between two to one hundred times the amount of pollutants found in outdoor air.

Tenants might seek claim for personal injury resulting from indoor pollution including sick building syndrome, building related illness, and multiple chemical sensitivity

Signs to look out for: There are many potential sources of air pollutants but the main ones are VOCs from building materials such as asbestos, second hand tobacco smoke (from people smoking in shared corridors etc) and poorly designed HVAC systems.

Monitoring air quality is difficult, but not impossible. Your surveyor can test air quality either by working with an air quality expert or by taking readings with an air monitor.

4. Crowding and space

With housing stock in big demand and external economic factors that could see more people seeking access to local authority accommodation, the housing disrepair industry could be a spike in tenants seeking compensation for overcrowding. Already affecting an estimated 788,000 households, compensation for overcrowding is something that is only likely to increase. 

Signs to look out for: There are obvious rules on who should be sharing rooms – and what counts as a room – when it comes to overcrowding. Your surveyor will also be able to measure the rooms to calculate the ‘space standard’ during a site visit and advise on the situation in hand.

5. Lighting

One of the consequences of Covid-19 is that an increasing number of people are likely to begin working and studying from home, with homeworking increasing to 37% post-pandemic.

Adequate lighting both natural and artificial will become a necessity and a big issue as people are sat at monitors and desks in the winter months especially.

Claims for headaches caused by eye strain and mental health problems due to lack of exposure to daylight will as a result increase rapidly.

Signs to look out for: Your surveyor should look for obstructions that could cause restricted daylight such as overgrown trees and shrubs, external buildings such as sheds and outbuildings and new developments or extensions built in close proximity to the property.

Items routinely left stored against a downstairs property are the main causes of natural light claims – such as bikes or building materials that are left routinely leaning against ground floor windows.

Broken light fittings and lack of enough light fittings to fill every room with adequate light are common internal lighting issues. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to ensure lights are in plentiful supply and in good working order.

About the Author:

David Deacon is a chartered surveyor who supports lawyers with housing disrepair claims through the provision of housing disrepair surveys and reports.

He is also the director of Housing Disrepair Surveys – a surveying practice that specialises in housing disrepair cases.