Shelter has called on the government to reform the private rented sector after a tenant died in his illegally converted, windowless flat.

Shop worker Philip Sheridan, 32, paid £75 a week for the flat in the cellar of a terraced house in Harehills, Leeds, where landlords hadn’t fitted a smoke alarm.

When a fire broke out in June 2019, Philip managed to escape but was delayed as the only one exit door had no handle.

The coroner concluded that the property was unsuitable for human habitation and that the conversion didn’t have planning consent or building regulation approval.

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A council inspection would have resulted in an emergency prohibition order, he reported, because of all the hazards.

Police interviewed the landlords on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence, but they were freed without charge.

Shelter says the tragedy highlights existing health and safety laws that are unfit for purpose and allow some landlords to let out dangerously unsafe homes.

National register

Chief executive Polly Neate (pictured) adds: “To prevent future tragedies, we need a national register to hold all landlords properly to account. Councils must have the funds to inspect homes and ensure they are safe.

“Crucially, we must abolish ‘no fault’ evictions, so renters can have the power to challenge poor conditions without the fear of losing their homes.”

Landlords can be fined if they don’t have a working smoke alarm on each storey, but a government survey reveals 11% of privately rented properties have no working alarms.

It is currently proposing to amend the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm regulations and wants landlords to ensure that each prescribed alarm is in proper working order on the first day of every new tenancy and to repair or replace alarms if they are reported as faulty during the tenancy.

Read our latest stories about smoke and C02 alarms.

11 COMMENTS

  1. How abolishing section 21 would prevent this tragic incident as Shelter suggests! Seriously it wouldn’t.

    Let’s assume, the Council would have carried out an inspection, found a series fault and issued an enforcement notice, the tenant can and may still refuse to vacate after taking Shelter’s advice or reading it from their website. Logically, a good landlord would issue a section 21 notice to evict the tenant promptly as planning and building regulation most likely would never be granted in such a layout.

    In the current situation, the landlord would not be able to do anything at all due to the eviction ban and serious intentional delays in courts to process eviction cases or even to appoint bailiffs to evict.

    Sadly, if section 21 ever abolished, disasters like those will be very common in a housing market with 60% of its property’s pre-date 1950s. Section 21 is the best instrument to use in those instances due to its supposedly quick outcome rather than awaiting for years in courts to resolve health and safety matters.

    It is highly misleading and deceiving to call section 21 is a “no fault” eviction. Very short-sighted description.

    We urgently need a genuine housing charity that cares about the tenants and spend their resources to find and/or offer safe and secure homes to tenants.

  2. As above, and a National Landlord Register (which I agree with) would not have prevented this tragedy.

    The availability of decent, affordable, social housing might have prevented the tenant from renting this death trap.

    Why Shelter persists in tarring all LLs with the same brush is beyond me – most of us are decent people and good LLs. We are not the problem but part of the solution!

  3. A landlord register will do nothing to prevent some landlords from letting out sub-standard properties. At such a low rent there will always be people who will be willing to rent it.
    Many decent landlords are leaving the PRS due to all the government’s landlord bashing, higher taxes, punitive fines, etc.
    The fewer decent landlords’ properties there are, the more people will be desperate to rent and forced to accept sub-standard properties that are below the radar.
    “Crucially, we must abolish ‘no fault’ evictions, so renters can have the power to challenge poor conditions without the fear of losing their homes.” Abolishing section 21 won’t help. A landlord can say they want to sell the property. I’ve issued S21s in the past and they’ve not been ‘no fault’ – just quicker than S8.

  4. Well said Tricia and Berlingogirl. These comments summarise the issue better than tens of thousands of consultations carried out over the last few years.

    From 2017, Shelter has made large efforts to defame private landlords. Shelter as it stands has become part of the problem, not the solution.

    Let’s hope that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government read our comments to recognise where the real problem is.

  5. As tragic as any death is, one death as a percentage of all tenants is not proof. The trouble with this country is we have reached (or arguably gone beyond) the point where the cost/benefit ratio has become unsustainably skewed, where one death is a signal for huge amounts of new legislation and associated effort and cost.

    Whilst you may argue one life lost is one too many, there must be a point you have to say enough, life is life and you cannot reasonably legislate against ALL risk. There must be a balance between wrapping us all up on cotton-wool and the damage to us economically and the imposition on the lives of millions of other citizens.

    That said, in the PRS, the majority of people live in good accommodation. Issues tend to be exaggerated by vested political interests (usually the left) but, unfortunately, the Government is too willing to concede for the sake of appearances and political expedience.

  6. If you want a Landlord Register then I want a Tenant Register. I want a formal nationwide register that identifies if they are prone to non payment, been evicted for breaches of tenancy and their renting history.

    Currently landlords will do just about anything to get bad tenants out including paying them and giving good references because the system failed to equally protect both landlord and tenant or business and customer, which it is. Changing the name to LL and tenant doesnt change the nature of it. We need to stop preventing LLs to have rights over their assets – no one is forced to stay, they can leave and move on. If the building is in poor repair – move. Don’t like the terms of the tenancy don’t move in or just leave. Bad tenants use Shelter and other sources to do their utmost to get a free service at the detriment and cost of others. Truly in the UK we need our government to move away from treating the symptoms and treat the root cause. Not all LLs are evil and many fall victims to the one sided system always protecting the tenants right or wrong.

  7. Clearly Mr Sheridan did not seem unduly concerned about and/or saw no other option than to move into a hell hole death trap. Do you really think he would’ve checked to see if his landlord was on a register before moving in? Do you seriously think this landlord would’ve been on the register? I don’t!

  8. Excellent suggestion Mard, landlords are sick to the back teeth of being punch bags for the Gov”t and such as Shelter together with being forced to provide free accommodation. As another poster said, you cannot go into Aldi and walk out without paying, why should landlords be treated differently?

  9. Well said Tricia; agree entirely. As you say, decent affordable social housing is needed, not Shelter’s bandwagon based on some very questionable statistics.
    The police response beggars belief though. Registers won’t stop this but the thought of a manslaughter conviction, with confiscation of property, might make some landlords wake up. And what was the coroner’s verdict on cause of death? I struggled to find that.

  10. The unsafe and substandard housing are vastly in the public sector. All those death trap tower blocks like Greenfel.
    What has the government done to drive up the standard of those housing? Subsidizing billions from public funds to remove the cladding. What is Shelter’s campaign on it? Have we ever heard of Shelter’s voice on the 75 deaths caused by Greenfell?
    This tenant took this room for its cheap price, not for the landlord being registered. Does anyone like shelter if in their right mind really think ridding the private landlord with unfairly punitive legislations will help renters?

  11. If that Landlord didn’t obey the Law how will passing more Laws improve the situation.
    Shelter etc. by saying that all Landlords are wrong and telling all tenants they should not be evicted are encouraging them to stop paying rent.
    Just throwing money at it is not the solution. Often the housing benefit is paid by the government but the tenant prefers not to waste it on rent and invests in drugs booze and fags instead.
    Surprisingly Landlords are reluctant to do up trashed property to a high standard only for it to be trashed again. This drives down housing standards to the detriment of the (majority) of good tenants.
    What about the people who are supposed to inspect dodgy landlords? They say they cant cope. If I messed up i can imagine how that excuse would go down in court.
    Some people cant cope but its the job of social services and the benefits service to help them NOT ME.

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