(1) In England today, renters can’t easily challenge their landlord if the home they rent is in bad condition…some renters don’t even realise the property is in bad condition until they move in!
So, you move into a new house. It’s warm, newly decorated, it has a roof and no obvious infestations. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? A home fit for the 21st Century.
Then slowly, you notice things aren’t quite right. The hot water is intermittent in the shower. The rooms are feeling a bit colder. The heating and hot water systems start to fail completely. The new paint on the wall begins to crack and chip off. The mould underneath the new paint starts to show. You realise there’s a long-standing problem with unwanted pets, like mice. Not so ideal.
So you inform your landlord. Unfortunately for you, your landlord doesn’t do the repairs (sadly we found that this happens to renters far too often). Turns out he’s one of the landlords who gives a bad name to all the good landlords out there.
He probably thinks he can get away with it – and sadly a lot of rogue landlords do.
One of the problems here is that the main regulations on housing conditions – the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) – are geared towards helping local authorities to crackdown on rogue landlords, rather than empowering renters to seek improvements. The other law around poor conditions, the landlord’s repairing obligation in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, also generally requires a local council or surveyor to be involved.
In theory this system is fine: you can complain to your council, who will come round and carry out an assessment. The council can serve a notice on your landlord, or with their help you may be able to proceed with legal action against him.
Unfortunately, relying so heavily on local councils to tackle poor conditions is problematic because environmental health teams who carry out the assessments are often under-resourced – one of the consequences of local authorities’ budgets being under pressure.
We also know that tenants living in the worst conditions – for example those on housing benefit – are more reluctant to come forward and make a complaint about their landlord, fearing eviction or rent increases.
In short, renters often can’t take effective action when they rent a property in poor condition, and we think they should be able to. That’s why we want to build on the work of Karen Buck MP, to put forward a new clause in the Housing and Planning Bill 2015, to make sure that all privately rented properties are fit for human habitation at the start of a tenancy, and remain so throughout.
(2) One simple update to the law could finally empower renters to take action when they are forced to live in poor conditions
By agreeing to this new clause, MPs would revive an out-dated law, renters would once again get contractual protection, judges could decide on the basis of the renter’s own evidence that the property isn’t fit for humans to live in it, and best of all this law wouldn’t affect the good landlords in the sector! You can read more about why change is needed and what the new clause does here.
What’s not to like?
(3) Introducing this law will not affect good landlords who are already taking care of their rental properties, or create any additional costs for them.
Good landlords look after their property and their tenants – and under the proposed change landlords would not have to carry out work to rectify bad conditions that have been caused by the tenant, damage caused by natural disaster, or work which might put them in breach of another legal obligation
This new clause is a modest, sensible measure designed to target the rogue landlords bringing the name of the sector down.
(4) Introducing this law would leave cash strapped local authorities free to focus on the very worst cases
If MPs empower renters to challenge poor conditions themselves, without having to rely on the local authority, councils will be able to focus on cracking down on the worst conditions at the lower end of the market. This would complement all of the other great measures the Government are taking to crack down on rogue landlords as part of the Housing and Planning Bill 2015.
(5) Hurrah! Introducing this law would mean more renters living in better conditions.
This new clause would give renters the means to compel their landlord to fix poor conditions, if they let a property in an unfit state. Crucially, renters would be able to do this themselves if necessary, without their local authority being involved. This will free up under resourced councils to tackle the very worst conditions in the sector, meaning that overall conditions improve. It’s a win-win situation.
The only question is, why wouldn’t MPs want to push this through as part of the Housing and Planning Bill?
For more information, read our briefing.