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Bid to improve standards in rented homes welcomed by landlord groups

Thursday 20 July 2017

A new bid to improve standards in rented homes by MP Karen Bucdk has won the backing of leading landlord organisations.

The Labour MP will re-introduce her Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill in Parliament today, after it gained a second reading in the House of Commons in October 2015.

The Bill seeks to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that ‘residential rented accommodation is provided and maintaine in a state of fitness for human habitation; and for connected purposes.’

David Smith, Residential Landlords Association (RLA) policy director said: “Tenants have a right to expect that homes are fit for habitation, and the vast majority of good landlords already provide this. This Bill therefore reinforces what landlords should already be doing.

“By providing a route to direct tenant enforcement of basic housing standards the Bill will give a further opportunity to deal with the minority of landlords who have no place in the market. Current legislation often lets these criminals off the hook. We look forward to working with Ms Buck as the Bill is developed and considered in Parliament.”

Alex Huntley, Head of Operations at Simple Landlords Insurance added: “The entire Private Rented Sector is tarnished by the very few landlords who don’t look after their properties - or their tenants. It’s a particular problem where private landlords are working with underfunded councils, who can’t properly enforce standards. Good landlords are likely to lose nothing by the tightening of these rules, and the sector itself will be improved.” 

Chris Norris, head of policy, public affairs and research at the National Landlords Association (NLA), said: “The NLA met with Karen Buck MP in 2015 prior to the introduction of her private members bill and was happy to offer any support we could. Assuming that Ms Buck’s new bill sets out to achieve the same goals as her previous attempt, the NLA remains happy to support its passage through Parliament and welcome it onto the statute books.”

Buck, who represents Westminster North, originally introduced a Private Member’s Bill in 2015/2016 seeking to 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 bill was designed to:

Make sure that all tenancies on terms shorter than seven years are fit for human habitation. That includes council houses and privately rented homes.

Put the obligation on landlords to make sure that the homes they rent are fit for human habitation. That includes homes where the landlord is the local authority.

But her Bill was talked out was talked out by Conservative MPs, including Philip Davies, who describes himself as both a landlord and tenant. 

He said this dual status put him in the ‘unusual position of being able to see both sides of the argument’, but he finally declared that the proposed legislation would put ‘huge burdens’ on landlords and should be dropped.

Tenants can already take their landlord to court if there is disrepair to the property. But the proposed legislation would have expanded that power to cover health and safety concerns.

Labour then sought to reintroduce Ms Buck’s proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015/2016. 

Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce wanted to get the content of the rejected bill included in the government’s legislation.

But then-Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said that his bill already contained policies to tackle bad behaviour, and that Buck and Pearce’s proposals would impose ‘unnecessary regulation’ on landlords.

312 MPs – almost entirely Conservatives – voted against, while 219 voted in favour.

The Tories’ Housing and Planning Bill eventually passed in 2016. It gives councils the power to levy civil penalties on private landlords that fail to act on “category 1 hazards” in the properties they rent. 

That includes exposed or faulty wiring, dangerous or broken boilers, and damaged steps, but it doesn’t help people in local authority housing.

While all council homes are expected to be fit for habitation, no existing law – including the government’s most recent housing bill – actually allows that standard to be enforced. 

Even if the council’s own inspectors discovered failings in local authority properties, they wouldn’t have the power to force through changes or impose sanctions on those responsible. 

Labour’s proposed laws would have allowed council tenants to challenge local authorities on unsafe homes, but both were rejected.

In 1885 the Housing of the Working Classes Act was passed and Parliament first decided that residential rented accommodation should be fit for human habitation. 

That concept continued in subsequent housing, landlord and tenant statutes, culminating in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. 

In theory, section 8 of that Act places a statutory duty on landlords, covering issues such as damp, mould and infestation. 

Speaking in the Commons in October 2015 Ms Buck said: “The great weakness of those provisions is that they tie the repairing obligation to rent limits... that were last updated in 1957. The law as it stands applies only when the annual rent is less than £80 in London and £52 elsewhere in the country. 

“If any hon. Members can find a property where the annual rent is less than £80, I am sure that millions of people across the country would be delighted to know where it is. At the moment, the weekly average rent in London is £362, which gives an indication of just how far out of line the rent limits are. 

“Many of Britain’s near 9 million renters are well served by their landlords, but for the significant minority who are not there is a long overdue need to strengthen the law, to give improved redress to tenants living in very poor conditions and to correct this bizarre legal anomaly.”

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