What a difference a year makes
Since it was first tabled in 2015, Labour MP Karen Buck’s private member’s Bill calling for standards on fitness for human habitation in rental properties had been talked out and shunned by government on different occasions.
Some people, including other MPs, put down the fierce resistance against the Buck Bill presumably due to the fact that one in five MPs from all parties, are landlords and were as a result against it for their own self-interest.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not mentioning this because I think the reason many opposed the bill is because they are landlords, I’m saying it is because they are career MPs, a group of people who many of us would trust about as much as they would George Galloway running a charm school.
Something changed everything
But while Karen Buck spent 2 years shouting into a gale force wind, Grenfell Tower happened and even the most hard-nosed of politicians took a step back.
With the fallout from that tragedy still rumbling on in the front pages of the media and the complete incompetence of the council and government to make life better for the displaced residents, the post-Grenfell “Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and liability for housing standards) Bill”, would be a hard one to continue to oppose for any politician, not just those who with a self-interest set at “Trump-level”.
The bill was passed
So it was perhaps unsurprising that with cross-party support and also the backing of the RLA, NLA and ARLA among others, the Bill was finally passed on Friday morning.
In case you missed it she isn’t proposing a whole new law as such, just some tweaking, extending and streamlining of principles already established in, Section 8 (1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which reads:-
“(1) In a contract to which this section applies for the letting of a house for human habitation there is implied, notwithstanding any stipulation to the contrary:-
(a) a condition that the house is fit for human habitation at the commencement of the tenancy, and
(b) an undertaking that the house will be kept by the landlord fit for human habitation during the tenancy”
The trouble is
While that law has been in for 33 years its use was restricted to properties where the rent does not exceed £80 per year in London or £52 per year elsewhere, Such figures were set in 1957 and have not changed since that time.
The accepted stats are that between two and a half to three million people live in properties with hazards rated as Category 1 under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, meaning there are conditions within those properties that present a serious risk to the health and safety of the occupants.
I should stress
This means any rental property, not just privately rented so this new Bill will likely have difficult financial implications for councils and housing associations, whose record on repairs and maintenance is often pretty damned poor, even when we aren’t referring to fire-proof cladding.
The cost of compliance when you have a housing stock running into the tens of thousands, is going to present some interesting challenges.
But don’t the council prosecute for building standards?
I hear you ask.
Yes, they do but the Buck Bill will allow tenants to take out private prosecutions against landlords whose properties don’t meet the mark, and the HHSRS is prosecuted by the council so councils as landlords aren’t covered because you can’t sue yourself.
In researching this piece I read the entire debate, you too can read it here.
Something I have never done before and whilst it was clear that there wasn’t a single dissenting voice from the different parties or even a ‘Yes but’ at any point, I was surprised at what a bunch of windbags most politicians are.
Had I been sitting in the public gallery I don’t think I would have been able to stop myself shouting:-
“Get to the point!”
Amid all the congratulations and back-slapping, not to mention innumerable mentions that it was the speaker’s birthday.
Numerous calls were made for local authority enforcement teams to take more action on poor property conditions in the PRS. Lib Dem MP Edward Davey called on government to:-
“Monitor and compare authorities to establish which of them are going after the rogue landlords, and should name and shame those that are not”.
While Labour’s Matt Western diplomatically pointed out that it:-
“Is so often the case, the powers may exist, but the first cuts that are made in local authority budgets are those that prevent them from enforcing their existing powers”.
A comment supported by Conservative Lucy Allan but questioned by Tory Kevin Foster who said that his constituency of Torbay in Devon had levied penalties of £30,000.
Kevin, I’ve been to Torbay and it ain’t Walthamstow mate. I doubt the ratio of slum properties to enforcement officers is in the same league.
Chair of the CLG committee Clive Betts said something I think is probably true:-
“Most members of the public, if they were asked, “Should landlords be able to let properties that are unfit for tenants to live in?”, would say, “Of course they should not, but the law prevents that, doesn’t it?”.
Certainly my non-housing mates are always surprised to hear it.
So there you have it.
Everyone agrees that the Bill is now a good idea, whereas before Grenfell it wasn’t. As I said at the start of this article, what a difference a year makes.
The fine details of how it will work need to be hammered out and Giles Peaker over on Nearly Legal has been heavily involved since the outset, so he will no doubt be right on the money as the Bill works its way into a law.
Well done Ms Buck.