Last Friday saw a number of publications released by the government one of which was a pdf guide to tenants on Renting a Safe Home.
Lets take a look at it.
This guide will probably be very helpful for well educated middle class tenants (of whom there are many) but others may find it a tad challenging.
It reads very much as if it were written by an official writing with reference to a copy of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System 29 hazards open at his elbow, and the narrative style is a bit turgid.
Even I found my eyes glazing over from time to time, and I am used to reading legal documents!
If the government wants a guide to help underprivileged tenants I would suggest a more user friendly version, ideally with pictures to illustrate the hazards being discussed.
In fact this is rather what I expected when I learned about the guide. The author obviously knows what he is talking about, but maybe fails to appreciate the extent that others may not.
This is a topic which is really crying out for illustrations.
- Pictures of damp patches on walls and of black mould would be helpful
- Examples of what he means by a ‘well ventilated room’. What should tenants be looking for exactly? Ventilation bricks? Cracks under the door? Or just windows that open?
- What are the signs of a poorly maintained appliance? Frayed cables? Knobs that fall off? People need to know what to look out for
- What do smoke and carbon monoxide alarms look like?
- What does a gas safety certificate look like?
- What do mice droppings look like?
- Diagrams showing safe and unsafe positions of cookers would be good, particularly as some people (eg students) may not be familiar with cooking meals
- Likewise examples of ‘inappropriate positioning of amenities’
- Pictures of the different types of vermin that may infest properties, and
- Pictures of unsafe electrical switches, overloaded electrical sockets, and plugs with frayed cables would all help get the message over
And so on.
The guide is also a bit naive and does not take account of our current housing crisis.
If the only choice is (a) a property with uneven stair treads and a slippery bath, or (b) sleeping on a park bench, I know which one I would choose.
Further – if the only property you can afford has geriatric kitchen appliances, and damp patches on the walls – these problems are why it’s cheap. Do you want to
- Risk getting evicted by the landlord if you report the issues or
- Risk having the rent put up to something you can’t afford if the landlord deals with them?
The guide is written on the basis that retaliatory eviction will soon be a thing of the past once the provisions to deal with it in the Deregulation Bill come into force.
However the regulations depend very much on Environmental Health Officers doing inspections and serving improvement notices on the landlord.
But, as I am sure Ben will confirm, all Local Authorities are currently having to make dramatic cuts in services due to massive reductions in their funding.
I suspect most tenants will be lucky if they can get an EHO out to their property at all.
I am sure that EHOs and indeed all Council Officers, will do their best, but there are only so many hours in the day, and calling a service ‘lean’ does not somehow magic up more time to get things done.
Particularly as often it is the older and more experienced officers who get made redundant.
Although there is nothing actually wrong with the guide, and it is an accurate statement of the law, I have my doubts as to whether it will actually be much help to many of the tenants faced with living in unsafe properties.
If you want to read the Guide it is here.