Homes for Habitation
PUBLISHED: 10:51 09 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:51 09 February 2018
Coming down the pike (yet another) new law seemingly to further bash already well beaten up landlords. Recently, the bill to allow tenants to sue their landlords where their home is not fit for purpose was debated in Parliament and passed with flying colours by MPs across all political divides. It is expected the resultant law will be up and running by the end of this year.
Rogue landlords beware, you could soon find yourselves up in front of the Beak. But what’s new I hear you ask, surely there are more than sufficient laws, rules, regulations etc enforceable by the courts and the local authorities to make the need for the new bill somewhat redundant? Apparently not!
By way of background, the 2015-16 English Housing Survey found that around 795,000 homes in the private rented sector and almost 245,000 in the social rented sector have a category 1 hazard. Such hazard is defined in the housing health and safety rating system as: “a serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety.”
I can almost see your eyes start to roll at the phrase “health and safety” but bear with me, we’re talking here about serious stuff like: asbestos, mould, damp, carbon monoxide. What if I said this represents 6 per cent of properties in the social rented sector, or that it represents 17 per cent of properties in the private rented sector? That’s nearly a one in five chance that a rented property has a hazard considered a “serious and immediate risk”. No wonder so many MPs were keen to support the bill.
Okay, but what is the new law going to do that existing laws don’t? Well, its key function is to give those living in dodgy properties a meaningful route to get necessary repairs done. Currently, tenants are dependent on their local authority for action to be taken regarding property standards. The bill will give tenants the right to take their landlords to court directly; they will be able to apply for an injunction themselves to compel their landlords to carry out the necessary repairs or for compensation from their landlords for their failure to maintain the property. In the worst cases, tenants will be able to provide their own evidence to the judge, rather than, as now, having to rely on an environmental health officer or surveyor’s report.
Interestingly, it doesn’t introduce anything new. No new property standards are defined in the bill and there’s no additional regulation. It simply gives tenants a direct route to making sure existing standards are enforced. Sad as I am, I read through the debate in Parliament as recorded in Hansard and this is what the Conservative MP for Colchester, Will Quince said, “It will empower tenants so that when they tell a landlord that the condition of their property is simply not good enough, the landlord must take notice and resolve the problem”.
We’ve all seen the programmes on the telly with scum landlords, mostly in the poorer parts of London, Birmingham, plus all those other places where any right-minded person from Norfolk wouldn’t want to live; so, isn’t this bill just going to affect anywhere else but here? I can hear you thinking, I’m a good landlord with a decent property who wants to do right by my tenants and, therefore, I’m unlikely to be affected by this. In truth, I think you’re probably right except that, as in every good intentioned law, there’s always likely to be consequences, which the law-makers should have spotted but didn’t.
And, don’t forget, in this sometimes unfortunate world in which we live, that word compensation is likely to have a big impact in all of this. I can just imagine the conversation now;
Unwanted caller from a claims management company: ‘Hello, I‘m calling about the accident you had last year.’
Tenant: ‘I haven’t had an accident, go away.’
UCCMC: ‘Do you rent your property?’
You can contact Mike White, of Martin & Co on 01603 766860, sponsors of this column. www.martinco.com/estate-agents-and-letting-agents/branch/norwich