Environment, Safety and Standards Regulation and Enforcement

Why the RLA is supporting Karen Buck’s Bill 

John Stewart
Written by John Stewart
Karen Buck MP will be speaking about the Fitness for Human Habitation Bill at our Future Renting conference in London 13th September.
Here, RLA Policy Manager John Stewart explores why the RLA is supporting the Bill.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, tabled by Karen Buck MP, it gives tenants the power to take their landlord to court if their homes are deemed not fit for purpose at the start of, and throughout, their tenancy.

So why, I hear you ask, would the RLA support moves that could see landlords end up in court?

Quite simply because, as a landlord, the homes you are providing should be fit for people to live in. Here we run through the key elements of the bill and what they mean.

It doesn’t introduce any new obligations.

The standard is already effectively in place, via the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. (HHSRS)

It also offers protection to landlords by making it clear that should ‘unfitness’ be caused by the tenant’s actions, then the landlord won’t be liable.

It extends to all housing tenures.

Councils, housing associations, private landlords and build-to-rent will be on an equal footing.

Moreover, it gives council tenants a route to enforcement that is currently unavailable.  Councils cannot take enforcement action against themselves, and are often reluctant to act against social housing.  If the Bill is passed social housing tenants will be able to access direct enforcement of housing standards. 

It provides an alternative route to enforcement.

It’s not just social housing where regulations are under-enforced.

Local authorities have cut back in areas like environmental health spending in recent years, leaving little capacity to prosecute criminal landlords.

Unless a council takes action, there is very little recourse for tenants, even when backed by organisations Shelter or Citizens Advice.

Such criminals rely on avoiding prosecution in order to continue exploiting tenants.

Now tenants, with suitable backing and proper evidence, will be able to take direct action to raise standards and help force the worst elements out of our sector. 

Could my tenant report me maliciously?

The Bill still requires a landlord to be notified of any disrepair, and have an opportunity to carry work out – and tenants must allow landlords access to homes to inspect them. 

Tenants cannot simply instigate court action, they need hard evidence, and the courts will very quickly deal with vexatious or malicious cases.

There will be time for landlords to adjust

The Bill will initially only apply to new or renewed fixed term tenancies after it is implemented.

It will then apply to periodic tenancies 12 months after the bill comes into force, giving landlords time to ensure properties are up to standard. 

Do I have to do anything?

No. You just need to continue providing good quality homes for your tenants.

The RLA offers courses on Property Standards and Safety, and has an interactive resource, the Safe and Secure Home which runs through landlords’ obligations when it comes to standards.

About the author

John Stewart

John Stewart

John is the Policy Manager for the RLA. He has over 20 years experience working in politics, as a successful election agent, MP’s assistant, local councillor and council leader, and is a former charity chief executive.

He oversees RLA policy work across all levels of government – central, devolved and local – working to ensure that landlords’ views are represented and officials, MPs, Assembly Members and local councillors have key information and evidence about the PRS before they take decisions.

8 Comments

  • I support the bill too and I’m sure all decent landlords will be behind it. But even so, I learned interesting facts Re social housing from this article. Thank you.

  • “Do I have to do anything? No.” apart from create a defence. How are you as a none-impartial landlord going to prove to a court that damp is not caused by a deficiency but tenants lifestyle. Previosly impartical council official would come and inspect, now its a battle of who has the most evidence.

    Lets not forget its also an offence to start a tenancy off with deficiencies – would such a thing would not need Tenant to give you notice to fix? You should have already known about it. Which puts ever important requirement on quality check-in photographs.

    The regulations dont say a claim can not be brought if a Tenant does not give you access. No it just says they should. In addition to creating criteria to do so. Giving Notice & Time before you do so – not only would a landlord need to proove they were declined access but requisit notice and time was given.

    So when RLA says you dont have to do anything – this is not true you have to be on the defencive from the start of the tenancy & continue that gathering & recording evidence as you go. As well as get your wallet out to pay for solicitors to defend yoursef – as you enter a adverserial system with your tenant.

    This proposal is a step backwards – from a local expert visiting the property and making a determination. To a supplier & there client sitting accross form each other argueing.

    RLA is right to want change but that should be in supporting HHSRS petitioning to get it better funded for better enforcement. It is wrong to support a bill that brings tenants into courts unecesserily.

    • Agreed to everything you say. Just check out forums here ,most of them Tenant is not allowing access. RLA should be supporting LL but it does not seem like it to me. They should be bringing a bill for tenants that it is a criminal offense not to pay rent and/or to damage the property. Tenants then should not be allowed to rent and pay fines just like LL have made to do. Where is the criminal Tenants bill? Register?
      Allowing this is going to benefit Ambulance chasers/legal aid solicitors/ self serving MP’s who want to be popular, win votes, self interest. I am getting more and more disappointed with RLA.

  • I have some concerns about this.

    Who can argue looked at from a distance that this is a good idea as houses should be fit for purpose.

    However it if becomes a “no win no fee” culture with solicitors touting for business then it could destroy the market.

    Having just come back from a holiday abroad and the operator was giving out leaflets saying that they are finding it difficult to get hotels for UK people due to the cost of defending false claims. Look at whiplash claims – are we in danger of this happening in housing?

    If there are barriers to the “no win no fee ” brigade then of course it is not a problem.

  • Whilst it all sounds commendable, (even if duplication of existing regn’s, viz: HHSRS), cynically, what will ensure that the courts will, for example, “very quickly deal with vexatious or malicious cases”? Isn’t part of the problem, currently, that Landlords themselves can’t get Sect. 8 repossession cases heard for months because the courts can’t cope?
    This Bill isn’t BALANCED with any similar protection for Landlords against those irresponsible Tenants, who don’t heat/ventilate/clean as they should. My only experience, recently, of a Deposit Dispute case, found mainly in my favour, but didn’t instill confidence since they WASTED 2.5 months, with NO accountability on their part, before even providing Tenant with my submission! Then they got their arithmetic wrong in their decision, so underpaid me/overpaid the tenant!
    IF the housing court is properly resourced? one positive aspect will be taking the enforcement element off local authorities – they i) have no staff to deal – and ii) don’t have their own house in order, according to a 2016 survey recently publicised [only 89% of Council-owned properties are MEES-compliant].

  • I too agree with the sentiment behind the legislation – landlords should provide homes fit for tenants to live in generally acceptable conditions – but I am not at all confident that this new legislation will be used sensibly.

    For example, doesn’t it give local authorities another mechanism to encourage bad tenants to stay in their properties, despite failure to pay rent, damage, anti-social behaviour and notice to quit, so that the LA can delay the responsibility of rehousing them? They already advise tenants to ignore notice to quit, on the grounds that moving out is making themselves “intentionally homeless”. Now local authority officers can say, “Why not take your landlord to court? There must be something you can complain about?”

    Or isn’t there a risk that the courts, cheered on by tenant rights activists and the usual suspects, start to re-interpret HHSRS, over-ruling EHOs and private sector H&S and Fire inspectors to introduce “improvements” and “greater tenant protection” via case law? For example, a tenant complains that a house is “damp”. The landlord protests that it’s condensation and a lifestyle issue – the previous tenants had no such problem, and the new tenant needs to be educated to open windows, stop drying clothes on maidens or radiators, stop leaving doors open in bathrooms when having a shower, etc – and the EHO supports this view, but the judge says the tenant is entitled to be ignorant and behave as she wishes in the “normal functioning” of her own home, and it’s the landlord’s responsibility to install additional ventilation or a whole-house MVHR system to solve the problem.

    Another example: a flat or house becomes infested with cockroaches or mice, because the tenant doesn’t maintain hygiene in the kitchen and there is a constant supply of crumbs, rotten food on the floor, etc. The tenant takes the landlord to court over the infestation. The landlord loses, because despite providing a property that to most people’s eyes is acceptable with normal hygiene standards, the judge decides that the tenant’s lifestyle is a matter or personal choice; it is the landlord’s responsibility to close up every conceivable crevice to prevent access by vermin, and to destroy the infestation now that it has become established.

    Another example: a tenant becomes grossly fat and depressed during his tenancy, so that the toilet, bath and shower become unable to support his weight, and the house stinks because rubbish is not being taken out or the toilets cleaned. The tenant takes the landlord to court for operating an unsuitable property. The landlord loses the case because he has failed to adapt the property to the tenant’s “disability”, mental health issues and choice of lifestyle, and is told to provide a cleaner and replace the bath, shower and toilet, and is prevented from giving notice because this would be discriminatory.

  • I have just been inspected today, by Liverpool Landlord Licensing. The inspection was 100% compliant, I’m co-regulated by RLA.

    The problem is rogue landlords. Even with the licensing scheme in Liverpool, there are still scum landlords who pay no attention to the law and get away with hiding their identity and treating tenants like dirt.

    Landlords need to do the right thing, give good service and be accountable. With this new bill, there seems very little point in having local licensing schemes anymore. It’s the criminal element that needs to be dealt with.

  • “It also offers protection to landlords by making it clear that should ‘unfitness’ be caused by the tenant’s actions, then the landlord won’t be liable.”

    And how are landlords going to prove the unfitness was caused by a tenant’s actions?

    An hour and a toolkit will make enough non-provable cat 1 hazards to provide a nice little earner.

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