The Rugg Review
Regular readers will have no doubt scanned my previous article on the launch of the new Rugg Review 2018 on the 10th September.
The review itself is well in excess of 200 pages and a lot of topics are covered in detail with supportive data. One aspect that drew a lot of interest was the recommendation that property, like cars, should be subject to an annual MOT test to ensure it meets all statutory requirements.
New enterprise looming?
Julie Rugg herself favours the creation of a private market solution, whereby, as with the old home information pack, people could be trained in multi-disciplinary skills to deliver a targeted service on a specific end result.
She argued that this would take inspection away from local authorities, already denuded of staff and create a new, independent industry of its own.
Clive Betts MP, sitting on the same panel disagreed, arguing that as with car MOTs it would be too easy to source private inspectors of loose morals to sign off a property that doesn’t meet standards.
Recently, I sat on another panel at the London Borough of Redbridge/NLA landlord’s forum in Ilford where the ever-excellent good egg and landlord extraordinaire Richard Blanco floated the MOT idea to the assembled throng, of what looked to be around 150 engaged East End landlords.
The vast majority were in favour of the idea in principle.
So what is the principle?
Well, it correlates straight over. Every 12 months, all car owners put their car under inspection, not for mechanical faults, merely for safety issues such as brakes, lights, steering etc. If it doesn’t pass, then your insurance is invalid and you can’t drive the car.
But would it work exactly the same way with property?
The first thing that springs to my mind is the fact that a mechanic is skilled and qualified to run all relevant checks but this isn’t the same with signing off electrical safety, gas safety and rising damp, which requires different disciplines.
If you were also to factor in aspects of tenants rights owed to the occupants, which I think should be part of the MOT as well, then it becomes something else entirely, requiring a truly multi-disciplinary operative to carry out their function. Someone who knows rising damp from condensation and a tenancy from a licence.
Would it be practical?
What of the differing opinions of Clive Betts and Julie Rugg about who would be best placed to carry out the MOTs?
Local authorities are already stretched to breaking point dealing with rogue landlords and slums. The government would have to slacken off from imposed public sector cuts in order to allow councils the space to employ people to do the jobs and even then there are the specialities to consider.
Whilst a skilled environmental health officer may be able to identify a dangerous electricity or gas supply on one level, they are not qualified or authorised to condemn it or sign off approval. At the moment that lies with regulated electricians and gas safety operatives.
So unlike mechanics and MOTs, there isn’t a single qualified person entitled to deal with all aspects of housing standards.
So how would the inspections be carried out?
Would a team of people make their assessments or would there be, as I understand Julie to suggest, a new vocation of multi-disciplinary housing inspectors?
The corollary would be to put your car through an MOT and have different mechanics assessing the brakes to those assessing the headlights.
Camels and committees spring to mind, not to mention the increased cost which would be ruinous, given everyone’s skilled time.
I think in practical terms Clive Betts’ idea is unworkable. Accommodation MOTs would have to be a separate industry, despite the risk of encouraging wide-boys prepared to sign off deficient properties.
That would have to be dealt with a different way such as the recent prosecution by Waltham Forest Council of gas safety engineer Muhammed Waseem for issuing 4 gas safety certificates without inspecting the appliances. He was fined and struck off the register, effectively losing his income.
And in a post-Grenfell world, he should count himself lucky to have gotten away with that wrist slap, as was landlord Tariq Hussein who arranged it.
A new industry in the making
A whole new job would have to be created, combining gas and electricity safety inspections with knowledge of damp, housing management regs and housing law. Not impossible at all and potentially a very interesting job.
The caution to watch out for would be whether the government would do what they did to the poor sods who spent thousands of pounds of their own money training to compile Home Information Packs, only to find the idea unceremoniously dropped shortly afterwards.
Personally, I’m in favour and I would go further and use the MOT to consolidate and simplify other legal issues currently confusing everybody.
If the MOT inspector was trained to ensure that all the requirements of the Deregulation Act are followed, then tenants would know their deposits were protected and landlords would avoid challenges to s21 proceedings based on licensing, gas safety, how to rent booklet etc, because the inspector had already signed all of that off.
Tenants wouldn’t have to know all of the convoluted legal requirements for the creation of safe lettings, just their entitlement to an MOT certificate, which I suppose should really be called an MHCLG certificate. . bIn court when seeking possession, again all a judge would need to be shown is the one document and face any challenges on issues arising solely after granting the certificate such as disrepair or harassment.
Agents also would be prohibited from letting properties without one, which would simplify that end of things as well for both agents and enforcement officers. In letting terms we wouldn’t need licensing because without the MOT a rogue landlord couldn’t let property and instead of enforcement officers checking multiple breaches and wading through countless rules and regulations to secure a conviction we would just have to ask for the lettings certificate to be produced.
In writing this I’m also working out my own thoughts on it and I think it might simplify things for all parties, tenant, landlord and enforcement officer alike.
Of course, there will be those that seek to get around the legislation, just as there are people who drive cars without MOTs and bent mechanics signing off unsafe vehicles. But the underlying principle would be easily understood by all regardless of legal knowledge. Everyone knows where they stand.
The people issuing the certificates would have a complex and multi-disciplinary role and responsibility to match but all skills can be learnt. They won’t be required to be bio-medical scientists, just learn the skills and knowledge required to set up a letting in a decent living environment.
What happens after that is a matter for people in my jobs and the courts.