More than a million landlords could face legal action from tenants as new rules are set to give renters the right to sue for compensation if their homes aren't up to standard.
The Fitness for Human Habitation Act, which will come into force fully from March, will give both social and private tenants the power to take their landlord to court if their home isn't safe, healthy and free from hazards.
Up to three million people – including children – are living in homes with what are defined as having a 'serious and immediate risk to a person's health and safety'.
Up to 3million people are living in homes with a 'serious risk to a person's health and safety'
Despite this the UK's 4.1million social tenants currently have no effective means of redress over poor conditions, as Local Authorities can't enforce against themselves and rarely ever enforce against housing associations, according to charity Shelter.
Similarly, private tenants currently have to rely on local authority environmental heath teams to investigate and evidence poor conditions if they want to take their landlord to court.
The new rules will give these tenants the right to take action themselves if they rent a property in poor condition and the landlord fails to do the necessary maintenance.
Renters will be able to apply directly to the court for an injunction to compel a landlord to carry out maintenance and repair work, or for compensation for the landlord's failure to keep the property safe to live in.
The new ruling, which until now has only been enforceable with tenancies starting from last March onwards, will from next month include all tenancy agreements, including social housing.
Hazards fall into 'category 1' when they start to pose a serious threat to the health of the occupants.
For example, the most common hazard is damp and mould. This is classes as category 1 when living with dampness, mould and dust mites begins to threaten the mental or physical well being of the residents.
Children under 14 are particularly vulnerable.
Jessica Hampson, director at CEL Solicitors
Excess cold can also become a category 1 hazard when sub-optimal indoor temperatures - below 18°C, according to Public Health England - begin to affect the health of the occupant.
The elderly are particularly at risk in this case.
Jessica Hampson of CEL Solicitors said: 'Landlords have always had an obligation to maintain their properties for tenants, but this new Act takes it one step further and takes into consideration matters such as natural lighting, damp, ventilation and food preparation and cooking facilities.
'It gives tenants a voice and chance to hold their landlords to account if they are living in, and paying for, sub-standard accommodation.'
'While the majority of landlords comply with this law already, there are unfortunately some who do not ensure their tenants' homes are 'fit for habitation'.
'Although the law was brought in last March, it was only initially relevant to new tenancies – including contract renewals – so it was largely applicable to private landlords, as social housing contracts tend to be more historical.
'Many landlords were therefore essentially given a "buffer" to quite literally get their houses in order.'
The Government has published a guide to the Act for landlords which you can find by clicking here, and a guide for tenants which you can find by clicking here.
'They just didn't care' - Mum waited five years for landlord to fix mould, damp and mice infestation
Fifty-three-year-old mother of triplets Tracey, from Portsmouth, had to wait more than five years for repairs to her property despite shocking amounts of mould and damp, plaster coming off the walls and even an infestation of mice.
Tracey repeatedly asked for help from her landlord, but she says on each occasion she was told there was nothing they could do, and that she should wash the mould and damp from the walls and make a number of lifestyle changes.
According to the mother-of-three, she was even told that the problems were being caused by the fact she had three pets in the property – a budgie, a dog and a fish.
It was only when Tracey sought legal advice from housing disrepair specialists CEL Solicitors that the problems started to be resolved.
Tracey said: 'They just didn't care. The whole property was damp and blackened with mould, we had plaster falling off the walls and even started to get mice.
'Overall, it was just in an awful condition. When the builders came in, when we finally got the work approved, they said they couldn't believe we had had to live like this for so long.
'The damp was so bad in my son's bedrooms, we couldn't decorate because of the mould. One of my sons is disabled and my partner suffers from asthma, so the damp was having a particularly bad impact on their health and was a constant concern for me.
'Living in these conditions for so long, had a huge effect on all of us – there were constant arguments in the family which created a terrible atmosphere at home, and led to me suffering from depression and stress.'