In the wake of Grenfell, it’s time for landlords to step up
By Carl Agar
The inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower has been paused for a week, to mark the anniversary of the blaze - and to remember the people who died there.
It has certainly been a time to reflect, and I know many landlords of my acquaintance will have been amongst those reflecting.
In many ways, this is a landlord’s very worst nightmare. Landlords run businesses, but the vast majority believe that the best way to do so is to provide good quality, safe and secure housing that meets or exceeds national and local standards. They work with local authorities and with tenants, take pride in their properties, and care about the people who live there.
But this is not the case across the board.
There are unscrupulous landlords out there who rent out housing with unsafe electrics, no fire safety measures, who don’t respond to disrepair complaints, and don’t follow the rules.
It’s why regulation of this sector is so important, and why an increasing number of professional landlords are in support of regulation – despite the administrative burden or (real or imaginary) squeeze on profits and freedoms. Simple Landlord Insurance’s research shows that 60% of landlords favour more regulation – rising to 70% of those with larger portfolios. It’s these landlords who are looking at the wider benefits for the sector, and want to operate in a more professional market.
The fact is that the rogue landlord no longer has any place in this sector.
It’s worth noting by the way, that the word ‘rogue’ – which has been sensationalised and desensitised – is increasingly being replaced with the more accurate term ‘criminal’.
The good news is, new measures are already in the pipeline.
MP Karen Buck’s MP Private Members Bill - Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) is due to reach it’s committee stage very shortly. It is aimed at “protecting tenants in both the social and private rented sectors” and will require all landlords to ensure properties are safe, while giving tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties.
Local authorities in England and Wales already have powers to fine rogue landlords up to £30,000 and after April this year will be able to ban certain landlords from renting out accommodation permanently.
This new, Bill, however, passes the initial power over to tenants, giving them the right to take legal action against landlords if their accommodation is not in a safe and habitable condition.
Some landlords – good and bad – will of course be worried. While there are unscrupulous landlords, there’s no point pretending there’s not unscrupulous tenants too, who could take advantage of the new rules.
But it’s worth remembering that it won’t be all plain sailing from the tenant’s point of view.
An aggrieved tenant will have to convince their local authority that their tenancy is indeed a risk to safety under The Housing Act 2004, and under Section 11 L&TA 1985 and Section 4 Defective Premises Act 1972.
Next, the council actually has to have the manpower and resources to do something about it - and with the current austerity measures which have hit council’s particularly hard, that really doesn’t look likely.
Then there is the fact that the legislation, when passed, will be open to social housing tenants too (ie those whose landlord is the council itself). This begs the very real question – will the council ever take legal action against one of its own properties?
There are also further potential difficulties when the case comes to court. This comes down to proving who was actually at fault ie. if the tenant had complained earlier about the loose roof tiles the dampness which later aggravated the tenants asthma might have been prevented in time, etc.
It could be that however well-intentioned, the practicalities of implementation weaken the bill before it even gets off the ground. And then of course it remains to be seen whether the whole thing backfires on the government, solicitors begin to pray on social housing tenants as they recognise the Local Authorities as an easy target for compensation claims.
In my view the failure of this Bill would be a shame for both tenants and for landlords, because quite clearly something needs to change. And it needs to change before another tragedy like Grenfell can strike.
I believe it is time for landlords to step-up and start taking charge of regulation for themselves – instead of relying on legislation to be imposed and enforced. Good landlords have a responsibility not just for the health and safety of tenants but for the sector itself.
It will only really improve if WE choose to be active in improving it.