While the vast majority of landlords provide properties which are safe, legal and secure, there is a minority that brings the sector into disrepute. That is why the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is supporting Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability of Housing Standards) Bill.
Under current arrangements, where defects are found in a property, tenants in the private sector are required to notify their council who are responsible for investigating and enforcing regulations against landlords found to have breached the legally required standards.
The reality, as we are all aware, is that once a complaint is received it is a case of pot luck as to whether the council has the resources or the will to follow it up. RLA evidence shows that only about half of such complaints are even looked at by the local authority and so it is little wonder that many landlords are frustrated that they are often expected to pay high sums of money for licenses that lead to little clear action against the crooks.
We have also a perverse situation whereby councils will take action against landlords in the private sector while tenants living in sub-standard property owned by a council or housing association are unable to obtain the same rights. The English Housing Survey shows that, although marginal, a smaller proportion of social sector tenants are satisfied with their properties than tenants in the private sector.
Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability of Housing Standards) Bill helps to address this and it is one of a number of reasons why the RLA supports the legislation.
Firstly, the Bill does not place any new standards or regulatory burdens on landlords which they are not already legally obliged to meet under the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).
This does not end the pressing need for the HHSRS to be updated, with guidance especially needing to be updated to make it easier for everyone to understand.
In fact, the requirements to make a house fit for habitation were already in the law when the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 passed and they replicated rights first created in the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1885. They only ceased to be effective because a very low rental limit was placed on these obligations. This new Bill therefore resets the position to that which was originally intended.
Secondly, the Bill seeks to achieve what we all want, better enforcement of existing laws and regulations against the crooks. With poorly resourced councils not doing a proper job at the moment of enforcing the rules, good landlords are being undermined by the criminals who bring the sector into disrepute.
This Bill ensures parity in all rental markets, giving tenants in both the private and social rented sectors the opportunities to hold to account those landlords providing accommodation that is not up to scratch.
This is not a charter for spurious tenant complaints. Tenants would first need to raise their concerns with their landlord and provide sufficient time for the landlord to respond. Only after that could the tenant go to court, and even then the court would need to be satisfied that the concern raised by the tenant was genuine and that it was not related to a problem of their own making.
Alongside this Bill, the RLA believes it is vital that ministers develop the new housing court mentioned by the Sajid Javid in his conference speech in October, and called for in the RLA’s manifesto for the 2017 election.
This should be based on the work of the existing Property Tribunal, supporting landlords to more swiftly regain possession of a property where tenants are failing to pay their rent or are committing anti-social behaviour. Likewise, the housing court would provide an ideal route for tenants to enforce the rights they will have under this Bill.
The RLA continues to fight for landlords and this Bill does not change its forceful opposition to proposals from the Government and the Opposition which have the ridiculous effect of raising the costs of those good landlords we need to encourage whilst enabling the criminals to operate under the radar, evading scrutiny.
Karen Buck’s Bill is one part of changing the story from one that calls for ever more regulation towards one that calls for more intelligent regulation and better enforcement of what is already there. That should be welcomed.
Alan Ward is Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association and a landlord himself. The RLA tweets @RLA_News.