Health & Safety:

Writing in the UK Parliament’s house magazine, Lord Best says that the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill will “overhaul the current wildly out-of-date legislation in the private rented sector.”

The private member’s bill brought by Karen Buck “will redress the obvious imbalance in a market” and empower renters, Lord Best writes.

Commenting on how the private rented sector (PRS) in England “has witnessed phenomenal growth, doubling in size since 2010,” Lord Best says that belatedly, Parliament is catching up with the consequences of this.

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Bringing forward a lengthy list of what it calls “important measures to protect tenants and root out the so-called ‘rogue landlords’ who, so unfairly, give all landlords a bad name,” the government is supporting Karen Buck’s bill backed by the key bodies representing both tenants.

Shelter, Generation Rent, Citizen’s Advice and others, including the two major landlord associations, the National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) have all expressed support.

The Bill has the stated aim of bringing forward measures to overhaul the existing “wildly out-of-date legislation”. It will amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.

The current regime is intended to determine if privately rented homes are safe and “fit for purpose”, but only where rents are below a decades-old figure of £52 p.w. (£80 p.w. in London).

The amendment would remove “this utterly redundant constraint, giving tenants the right to take an offending landlord to court.” The tenant would no longer need to rely entirely on their local authority to take action. Many councils, they claim, are so under pressure, and low on resources that few of them actually do take positive action when housing poor conditions merit it.

In 2016/17, according to the article, “half of councils served no, or only one, enforcement notice on landlords.” Yet it is known that around 750,000 privately rented properties (English Housing Survey), those which have been identified as presenting a serious and immediate risk to the occupiers, are allowed to escape remedy.

The Bill does not in fact add any new regulations or requirements on landlords, there are already several hundred such rules and regulations in existence. However, in re-defining ‘fit for human habitation’, it simply draws together the existing strands and obligations on landlords from several difference pieces of legislation.

Crucially, it intends to give tenants the power and the means to enforce those obligations on their own behalf.

The Bill should not only help those private tenants who find themselves in sub-standard accommodation, with little power to do anything about it. Tenants of local authorities can also find themselves in a similar situation, so the bill will confer rights on social tenants, similar to those in the PRS – they will be able to compel their local council to carry out the works needed for the property to meet proper standards.

So, importantly, following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, the bill also gives, for the first time, the same rights to the tenants of local authorities to insist upon the fitness of their property, as will exist for private tenants. At present, the local authority, as the enforcement body, cannot take action against itself, leaving council tenants powerless to act.

It will also include provisions which cover health and safety hazards in shared areas and communal spaces in blocks of flats, with lessons learned from Grenfell in mind.

The residents of the tower had raised concerns about the safety of the building on many occasions before the tragedy occurred, but they were not listened to, no action was taken, and furthermore they had no means of forcing their social landlord to take action. So this bill before Parliament will empower council tenants and private sector tenants alike, to take action against their landlord in the courts.

As Lord Best says:

“The great majority of landlords (and their tenants) will be unaffected by the measures in this Bill,” because the vast majority of private and public landlords do a good job of providing safe accommodation. But the bill has recognised an “obvious imbalance in a market where acute shortages currently empower the provider at the expense of the consumer.”

Lord Best says that, “Karen Buck deserves enormous credit for securing the passage of this Bill through the House of Commons in a brilliant example of cross-party action in the cause of social justice. I trust it will have an equally fair wind through the House of Lords this week.”

Lord Best is a crossbench peer. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill will have its second reading in the Lords on Friday 23 November 

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill

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