Caroline Aliwell
Caroline Aliwell

By Caroline Aliwell

A not-so 21st century approach: why homes don’t have to be suitable for humans to live in them

Yes, I have the sad job of telling you that there are people living in places that aren’t fit for humans to actually live in them – and that it’s not even against the law. I’m talking about sharing your home (and even your bed) with creatures like rats and slugs, and with mould and damp growing everywhere, to name a few examples. Sounds like something from a nightmare, doesn’t it?

Sadly this is the case for the one in six private rented homes that contain a hazard that is a serious risk.[1] Shelter would like to make it a condition of every letting that the house is actually fit for humans to live in, as we said in our Safe and Decent Homes report.

The problem is with the current law. You know I said earlier that there isn’t a law protecting people from poor conditions? Technically there is, but it’s completely useless. Here’s why:

In theory, Section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) introduces an implied condition into all tenancies requiring that the home is fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy, and remains so throughout.

That all sounds fair enough, right?

Wrong! Wait for it, you’ll enjoy this bit:

  • The law only applies where the annual rent is less than £80 in London, and £52 elsewhere.

To clarify: where the annual rent in London is less than £80. The weekly average in London is £362[2]! Given that this cupboard under the stairs was going for £500 a month, I dread to think what £80 a year would get you…

These limits were set in the 1950s (a time when the credit card, TV remote and Barbie doll were first invented). Seems like a sensible time to base our current standards of living on, doesn’t it?

We did try to get this law changed as part of the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, but the Bill was unhelpfully filibustered, courtesy of MPs Philip Davies and Christopher Chope.

Excitingly, Karen Buck MP now has a great opportunity to change this law. Karen has put forward a Private Members Bill “to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1986 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.” Clearly, we’re not the only ones excited about this.

MPs will debate the Bill on the 16 October and then vote on whether it can go through to the next stage or not. (If they vote yes the Bill has a chance of becoming law. If they vote no, the Bill effectively dies). You can keep track of the Bill’s progress here.

This Private Member’s Bill provides a great opportunity for MPs to change the law. There is absolutely no reason in the 21st century why any accommodation, whatever the level of the rent, should be unfit for human habitation.

The Government shouldn’t allow this Bill to wither on the vine. Introducing a requirement for all privately rented properties to be fit for human habitation is the perfect accompaniment to the government’s welcome plans to crackdown on rogue landlords. Local authorities will have more power to find rogue landlords and fine them, and tenants will themselves be able to take action against their landlord. This two pronged attack will clamp down on rogue landlords who for too long have got away with renting out low quality housing.

So the question is, are MPs and the Government going to move with the times to make sure that no one has to live in sub-human housing?

[1] Governments English Housing Survey. This is just under three quarters of a million homes (735,000). (EHS, DCLG, 2013/14, 16.5% of PRS homes fail minimum standard HHSRS)

[2] VOA private rental market statistics, 2 bedrooms, London, 12 months to Q1 2015

One Response to A not-so 21st century approach: why homes don’t have to be suitable for humans to live in them

  1. A Landlord says:

    You already have the Housing Act 2004. It just seems duplication.

    ” places a statutory duty on landlords covering issues such as damp, mould and infestation,”

    So if someone does not ventilate their property, causes mould in the property. You want the landlord to pay compensation to the tenant?.

    With climate change and global warming and people travelling to more exotic places, are landlord going pay compensation for inspect. Everyone has a duty to keep their homes free of pests.