Fitness for Human Habitation: A positive step for both landlords and tenants

(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.

  1. Why wouldn’t MPs……………….
    The short answer is that some are like Philip Davies MP who talked out Karen Buck’s Bill.

  2. Utterly infuriated by the idea that this should not apply to Social Housing. I live in a place with is poorly maintained and in some cases dangerous. The HA won’t do anything and the LA won’t either. Is it the policy of Shelter to discriminate against tenants of HAs? I thought that Shelter would care about us as well as private tenants and it appears that you don’t.

    Also thank you for the explanation of the role of LA. Essentially as an advice worker (generalist and money advice) it was my experience that what was needed in general was/is right enforceable by tenants directly and a practical means of doing so.

    Finally a small point not all private landlords are he’s.

    1. Council Housing (including ALMOs) already has formal complaint mechanisms that can be used that do not apply to private housing. Firstly a complaint can be made to a councillor as a means of getting above the local officials. There are then the formal complaint mechanisms through the council own structures and if all that fails a complaint may be made to the Local Govt Ombudsman.

      Similar but no so extensive procedures apply to HAs. If a landlord refuses to do something then the sources of informal complaint stop.

      In addition there are usually formal tenants groups that can be used. These are all available free of charge. Of course no system is full proof.

      A route that is used by some social tenants is to apply to the Mags Court to make a complaint against the council that is has breached the Env Health Act. That does of course depend on being able to secure a solicitor to do so.

      It is a little way to address the imbalance

      1. Thank you for your response much of which appears not to be relevant. In particular I don’t understand your last sentence.

        What concerns me most of all is the idea that HA tenants are better protected than private ones. The same rules should apply to both in my opinion. It seems to me that many organisations including Shelter are happy to discriminate against HA tenants.

        Today fire safety measures are being undertaken at my flat. I have been waiting and arguing for over twenty years.

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