After two years of voting down a bill that could improve the housing conditions of an estimated three million people, Conservative MPs have now decided to back the policy which would see landlords being required by law to ensure rented properties are fit for human habitation.
At present, national legislation forcing landlords to ensure fitness of habitation of homes is non-existent; however, local authorities have powers to force change in the face of serious health and safety risks.
The Homes (Fitness of Human Habitation) Bill was first introduced in 2015 by Labour MP Karen Buck who has campaigned for years to have the bill passed. In its first appearance in the House of Commons, the bill was ‘talked out’ meaning it was dropped after a vote was not reached. After a reintroduction as an amendment by Labour in 2016 in the government’s Housing and Planning Bill 2015/16, the bill was voted down by 309 Tory MPs.
At the time, the government said that the bill would lead to “unnecessary regulation and cost to landlords, which will deter further investment and push up rents for tenants.” However, critics have speculated that this position could have been attributed to the fact that one in five Tory MPs are landlords.
However, on 14 January of this year, the government announced its backing of the bill. This announcement came after reports that over a million homes in the private rented sector in England are unfit for human habitation. The proposed legislation would make that illegal. The bill has recently undergone a second reading in the House of Commons.
In response to the news, MP for Tottenham David Lammy released a statement commending MP Karen Buck’s campaigning for the legislation, which is reported to have the potential to help renters in 147,000 ‘dangerously unfit properties’ in London alone. Lammy, who was particularly vocal on the Kensington and Chelsea council’s failures in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire last year, called for charges of ‘corporate manslaughter’ after the tower block was found to have been fitted with flammable cladding and lacked sprinklers.
The Secretary of State for Housing, Sajid Javid, who himself was among the MPs that voted down the bill in the past, made a statement: “Government will support new legislation that requires all landlords to ensure properties are safe and give tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties.”
With recent reports of 65% of students living in ‘squalor,’ the bill could have far reaching effects for students, many of whom enter into accommodation lets under private landlords during their time at University. The 2017 survey, conducted by Save the Student, found that 47% of students suffered from damp with 42% being left without water and/or heating.
Save the Student Editor Jake Butler commented at the time: “People tend to think that living in substandard conditions is just part of being a student.” Despite these cases of landlord neglect, the National Union of Students (NUS) found that 75% of students find themselves in debt to meet the upfront costs of private rented accommodation.