Fitness for Human Habitation: An early Christmas present for renters

Published: by Chris Thorne

Campaigning outside of Westminster

Renters received a welcome Christmas present today, as the Fitness for Human Habitation Bill finally completed its journey through parliament. Let’s unwrap it…

The Bill revives legislation requiring homes to be ‘fit for human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy and to remain so throughout. Extraordinarily, this is a not a protection currently enjoyed by any renter – social or private – in England. Although landlords have responsibilities to do repairs, there are some glaring omissions – including, for example, damp and mould caused by the structure of the building. Crucially, the Bill will help private and social renter’s voices to be heard, by giving them the right to take their landlord to court over unfit and unsafe conditions like these in their home.

The Bill could help to prevent another tragedy like the Grenfell tower fire. This was the starkest reminder of the dangers of unsafe accommodation.

There are currently almost one million rented homes with hazards that pose a serious risk to health and safety. This affects around 2.5 million people, who’ll all benefit from this landmark change in the law.

So, who do renters have to thank for this early Christmas gift?

First, we must thank Karen Buck MP for her tenacious effort. This was the third time Karen tried to get this Bill through parliament – she refused to give up after two defeated attempts.

But these new protections wouldn’t have been possible without our incredible Shelter supporters too. You helped to change the law.

Back in January, the Bill could have failed unless 100 MPs or more showed up when it went through parliament. The risk of failure was high, as the Bill had already failed twice, and the Second Reading was scheduled for a Friday, when most MPs are away from Westminster. They needed a very good reason to stay, and Shelter supporters gave them one.

Here’s a timeline of key activity:

  • 27th November 2017. Petition launches to ask the Government to back the Bill.

  • 7th December 2017. Supporters began sending save-the-date cards to their MPs, asking them to add the Second Reading date to their diary. An incredible 7000 cards were sent to over 500 MPs in December.

  • 10th January 2018. We handed the petition in to the Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government. An amazing 44,582 supporters signed the petition – a huge figure making it hard for the Government to ignore.

  • 11th January 2018. Supporters started tweeting their MPs, to hold them publicly accountable for attending the Second Reading. By the 19th, over 500 tweets had been sent sent, and a handful of dedicated supporters phoned their MPs too.

  • 15th January 2018. In response to Shelter’s petition, the Government announced they were backing the Bill. This meant it would receive crucial cross-party support.

  • 19th January 2018. The Bill passes Second Reading. Supporter pressure worked, and enough MPs turned up to see it safely through. Sponsor of the Bill Karen Buck MP thanked Shelter supporters for their strong campaigning and Conservative MP Will Quince said “I pay tribute to Shelter. It has done a fantastic job campaigning on many of the issues we are talking about today, and the Bill receiving its Second Reading would be a testament to all its hard work in this area.”

  • 20th June 2018. The Bill is amended to extend its remit to also apply to all common parts of the building. This is something Shelter had been calling for since the start of the process.

  • October – December 2018. When Parliament came back from Summer holidays, the Bill completed its journey through the House of Lords, steered through safely by Crossbench Peer Lord Best.

And here we are around a year later, celebrating a major win. This victory is a testament to the power of Shelter supporters. Our movement came together, stood up for renters and changed the law. Now all rented homes will be safer.

Thank you to everyone who campaigned with us in 2018. Have a wonderful Christmas & New Year.