Friday 19th January 2018 could be an important day for landlords and tenants as it marks the second reading of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill in the House of Commons. Proposed by Karen Buck MP it seeks to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.
You might assume that such a law already exists but sadly it does not, which means that, according to the latest English Housing Survey, over 1m tenanted properties in the UK currently suffer from ‘Category 1’ hazards, which are defined as a “serious and immediate risk to a person’s health and safety”. Such hazards include deficiencies of sanitation and water supply.
Importantly, the new bill goes further than the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985 by applying to all parts of the building which are owned by the landlord, making it particularly relevant to blocks of flats and HMOs. It also gives tenants the right to take action against builders or other contractors who have done work on the property which results in injury or death, even if the landlord commissioned that work.
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because a similar bill (also brought forward by Ms Buck) was filibustered in 2015 and then voted down (twice) as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill in 2016. You may recall the outrage about this in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, when we were reminded that 309 Conservative MPs (plus one UKIP and two Ulster Unionist Party MPs) voted against the amendments.
Following the media and political furore, it is hoped that the Bill will be more favourably received in January, but since the debate is scheduled for the end of the week, there remains concern that the minimum requirement of 100 MPs to force a vote may not be met as many spend Fridays in their constituencies. Needless to say, tenants’ organisations are urging interested parties to ensure that their local MP attends the sitting.
It should be noted that the Bill doesn’t actually place any additional burdens on landlords, but rather gives tenants the ability to enforce already existing standards that landlords are expected to meet – a right they don’t currently have. For the vast majority of landlords – who manage their properties properly and treat their tenants with respect – this Bill will be irrelevant. However, it does highlight the need to protect the small but significant minority of renters who live in inadequate and dangerous housing conditions with little chance of recourse.
As pressure group Generation Rent points out, “In a context where cuts to local authorities are continuing to bite and where environmental health enforcement action remains at low levels, it's very important that private tenants are empowered to take action where there is clear cause to do so.”
As a potentially lethal bacteria which thrives in poorly maintained domestic water systems, in our view the control of Legionella is highly pertinent to this piece of draft legislation. When it comes to ensuring a safe and healthy home environment, clean water is right up there on the priority list yet all too often is taken for granted. After Public Health England’s recent research revealed widespread presence of Legionella in domestic properties, there is certainly no room for complacency.
If you’re concerned about the control of Legionella in your rental property, contact us or visit our website for an instant, no-obligation estimate.