Karen Buck, MP, introduced the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill as a private members’ bill in July 2017; it had its’ second reading on 19th January and was unanimously passed to the Committee stage.
The Homes Bill was passed unanimously with MP’s from both the major parties making positive comments about the need for its’ implementation. This will allow tenants to take action against their landlords where their tenancies do not meet the required standard.
Its’ aim is to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which specified the responsibility of landlords to maintain the exterior and structure of the building, to include windows, doors and roofs, installations for heating space and water and sanitary installations.
This act may appear to cover every eventuality, but does not, apparently, mean that a landlord has a responsibility to keep the property to the standard it was at the beginning of the tenancy. It is interesting that this new Homes Bill does not introduce any new standards but seeks to enforce the standards already in existence under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, introduced by the Housing Act 2004.
The big change, however, and one to be welcomed by the private landlord, is that the new Homes Bill will also apply to public sector landlords, as well as private sector landlords. The public sector has always been able to hide behind the label ‘conflict of interest’. Now, their tenants will also be able to seek compensation for faults in the property.
Whilst this Bill could be seen as a positive step in equalising the position of private and public sector, questions must be asked about how the intentions of the legislation can be met.
Enforcement agencies have found their staff numbers reduced and difficulty in addressing the complaints they receive from private sector tenants; they are only able to act reactively, rather than in the way many would believe had more effect by acting proactively, doing spot checks, targeting areas for property inspections etc. It would be naive to ignore the pressures that will be placed on them when social tenants can also approach them about property complaints.
Much as we might like to believe that all tenants, private or social, are decent and honourable people, contact with tenants from either sector demonstrates that some have little idea about what is acceptable behaviour from a tenant, or how to look after their properties.
There must be some awareness of this, as the Homes Bill makes it clear that where unfitness is down to actions of the tenant, the landlord cannot be held responsible. Even to reach that result, will entail investigation, record keeping and cost. How much time and cost will be expended in pursuing what, in many cases, will be found to have no grounds for action against the landlord?
It seems more and more often that these plans are made and publicised without an obvious and favourable result being immediately discernible. This may be another ‘let’s wait and see’ scenarios.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon