Secretary of State for Housing Sajid Javid has called for new legislation to give tenants the right to take legal action against landlords who fail in their duty to provide safe rented homes.
At present time, local authorities have already been granted powers enabling them to eradicate on the minority of landlords who rent out unsafe or substandard accommodation. The penalty for non-compliance is a fine up to £30,000 and powers to issue banning orders on the worst culprits.
What this new bill effectively means is tenants will now be able to take direct action and the landlords will now be in threat of private prosecution if the property is not fit for ‘human habitation’ at the start of the tenancy for breach of contract.
The Bill states:
that all landlords (both social & private sector) must ensure that their property is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout and where a landlord fails to do so, the tenant has the right to take legal action in the courts for breach of contract on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation
At the moment, local authorities under The Housing Health and Safety Rating System assess whether a landlords property is a serious health and safety risk of the tenants. Assuming the property contains a hazard risk, or is substandard in nature the authorities have strong powers under the Housing Act which mean landlords must make necessary improvements to the property as they see fit. If the risks are more serious to the heath and safety of the tenant, the authority must take appropriate action for the landlord to reduce or remove the risk completely.
What we currently know is the Bill is unlikely to place any new obligations or standards on landlords or their properties. The Bill requires that firstly, landlords need to be notified in writing of any issues before the claim can be carried forward. Landlords will be given access to their property to inspect any potential breech. A tenant will only be successful if they can demonstrate that despite notifying the landlord, they have not taken any steps to remedy the breech in a reasonable amount of time.
Of course landlords should provide quality rented accommodation and be prompt with all maintenance and repairs. And those that do should have nothing to worry about. But what about if the tenant is part of the problem, and they don’t ventilate the house or put heaters on and this in turn causes mould because of their lifestyle?
As the HHSRS already provides the councils with adequate powers to deal with virtually all aspects of breeches and unfit properties, do these proposals take things a step further and hand more power to tenants? Also what is the redress for landlord expenses who are clearly the subject of a false & malicious complaints which are thrown out of court? The other side of the coin…