For decades now, lax regulation and unscrupulous landlords have left tenants short-changed. Some have been left in cold, dank, dingy and unsafe homes unfit for human habitation while others have hads their deposits taken by unscrupulous landlords who do not take part in (or even inform their tenants of) the Deposit Protection Scheme. For too long the actions of a minority of immoral profiteers have tarnished the reputation of the vast majority of landlords who are concerned only with the welfare of their tenants. Of course, the problem of sub-par housing is not merely a problem of the private sector. The social sector has more than a few black eyes of its own
That all looked set to change this October, however, when tenants were granted new powers to take decisive legal action against rogue landlords. MPs on both sides cheered in the House of Commons after the Fitness For Human Habitation Bill was unanimously approved. The bill will give both private and social tenants the power to hold their landlords to account in court if their home is deemed to be unsafe.
Labour MP feared for ‘suicidal’ constituents
The the private members’ bill was first proposed by opposition MP for Westminster North Karen Buck, who reported that an alarming number of her constituents were effectively trapped living in poor quality housing. Ms Buck even recalled a particular constituent who was left “suicidal” by terrible conditions. She promised that the government-backed bill would provide “new powers to hold the worst landlords to account”. She further stated;
“Many landlords take their responsibilities seriously but still a million households across the private and social sectors are forced to endure conditions which harm them or pose a serious risk of harm,”… “The effect of the bill is that the tenant will be able to take action against the landlord to make them put right any problems or hazards that make their dwelling unfit and the tenant can seek compensation when the landlord hasn’t done so.”
Responsible landlords can breathe a sigh of relief as this bill will go some way to legitimising the hard work that they put into making their properties safe, secure and desirable for tenants, although managed landlord services can be extremely helpful in taking the stress out of making sure that a property upholds its commitments under the bill.
Of course, with the memory of the Grenfell tower tragedy fresh in our minds, readers will be edified to learn that the bill also includes a ‘Grenfell clause’, which allows tenants to take action against safety issues with common areas in shared buildings.
‘Dickensian’ social housing standards
MP for Kensington, Emma Dent Coad of the Labour party was quick to point out that private landlords were not the only ones letting their tenants down. She spoke of “Dickensian” social housing, even stating that: “Poor housing is damaging health and sometimes killing my constituents and they have had until now no legal redress.”
Jim McMahon, the Shadow Housing Minister spoke encouragingly of the bill, issuing a stern warning to landlords that if they failed to provide habitable homes for their tenants it was time for them to consider another revenue stream. He said;
“Many of us would have received representations from private landlords who are screaming about the impact of this on their ability to make profit. Let’s be absolutely clear, if you cannot make profit by providing a clean and safe place for people to live, exit the game completely.”
Keeping tenants informed
Housing Minister Heather Wheeler mentioned that while the bill was a great step forward there was still work to be done. there is “still more to do” implying that making homes habitable was only half the battle.
It was also incumbent upon government to help to that ensure tenants know their rights and responsibilities.