Here’s a thing sliding through the back door that not many people know about.
Labour MP Karen Buck is proposing a small but perfectly formed change to the law on renting that is going largely unnoticed, probably because it seems like small potatoes but is actually very significant.
Private members bills don’t have a good record. Many of them seemingly aimed at making a name for the proposer rather than a serious attempt to change the law, but every now and again something comes through that actually makes waves and a difference.
Remember the Sarah Teather Bill on retaliatory eviction? It got filibustered out by a couple of rich, land owning MPs but came in through the back door of the Deregulation Act.
This is Karen’s idea:
The Homes (fitness for human habitation) Bill 2015 – 2016 seeks to amend Section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which relates, unsurprisingly, to the fitness standard of rental property, both at the point of letting and throughout the life of the tenancy.
Section 8 (1 ) states:
“(a) a condition that the house is fit for human habitation at the commencement of the tenancy, and
(b) an undertaking that the house will be kept by the landlord fit for human habitation during the tenancy.”
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 is far more widely known, as it relates to the repairing obligations of landlords but section 8 has largely slipped into obscurity because of the restrictive covenants applied to it.
Nearly Legal helpfully provides a guide to said restrictive covenants which originated with the rather patronisingly-titled Housing for the Working Classes Act 1885 and was last amended in 1957 in a way which means that Section 8 only kicks in where the annual rent is less than £80 in London or £52 elsewhere.
The other restriction is that Section 8 also only applies for tenancies of less than 3 years.
Karen Buck’s proposal is to lift the rent restriction and the 3-year limit so that section 8 applies to all tenancies without caveat. This was first recommended way back in 1996 by the Law Commission, but it didn’t happen.
What this would mean at the front end is that tenants could sue their landlords for disrepair under Section 11 and for fitness for human habitation under section 8.
The second reading of the Bill took place on the 16th of October.
Now….all decent landlords reading this will probably think “Why would anyone allow their investment properties to be in a poor state in the first place?” Quite true. Why indeed? But there are a significant minority whose properties are continually run as death traps.
For example, I was recently at a meeting with the London Fire Brigade’s chief fire safety officer, an ex-electrician who is not surprisingly an expert on electrical fires, who told me about a property they attended in March of this year where the tenants reported the smell of burning that turned out to be down to some faulty wiring underneath the floor.
The landlord’s response was to give them a fire extinguisher “In case things got worse”.
Karen Buck’s Bill is for these kinds of landlords, who are surprisingly large in number.
The photographs accompanying this article were taken by me in properties I have visited earlier this year. Both of them were tenanted by people at their wits end trying to get the landlord to do the repairs.
It seems to me, as an ex-rogue landlord enforcement officer that normal landlords would have no problem in supporting the Bill. It won’t cost them anything to usher in or to police and the proposals exclude problems caused by tenant use.
Bear in mind that the repairing covenants are still in section 11 and limited to repairs to the structure of the building so there won’t be any spurious claims of broken washing machines or tatty furniture.
Lets all ‘Back the Buck Bill’…..and if anything deserves to go on a T shirt that is it!
All decent landlords should support this campaign. It isn’t enough to pay lip service to it but do nothing further. A push by landlords to outlaw the rogues who rent out these properties would go a long way to show tenants and would be licensing champions that landlords are supporting plans to tackle the rogues in their community.
We need action, not platitudes and Karen Buck’s fitness for human habitation Bill offers that opportunity to rally support across the sector.
The last thing we need is ‘Buck Bill Platitudes’.
And of course you know how hard I worked to get that pun into this article!
Note – this article was written before the bill had its second reading. Here is a report on what happened.