A new private members bill has been passed in the Commons, enabling tenants to take legal action if their private or social rented home does not meet the minimum standards required for human habitation.
The bill is aimed at the ‘stubborn, hardcore minority’ of rogue landlords, giving tenants new rights, and closes a legal loophole that currently allows landlords to get away with letting out property that has potential hazards.
The bill would apply to England and Wales and will now be considered by the House of Lords.
The current law means landlords are not held responsible for risk to tenants found to be a result of the poor condition of a property. The landlord only commits an offence if it fails to carry out repairs required by a local authority enforcement notice.
If successful, the legislation will require all leases to have an ‘implied covenant’, that states that the landlord is responsible for ensuring the property is inhabitable from the start of and throughout the tenancy. Failure to comply will give the tenant legal redress directly through the courts. If successful, the negligent landlord would be required to pay compensation or remove the hazards.
It is hoped the new legislation will help to protect the most vulnerable tenants, living in substandard accommodation and unable to do anything about it.
A committee of MPs suggested, after an Inquiry in April this year, that rogue landlords should be forced to pay more substantial costs when found to have committed an offence or have their property confiscated by the local authority. Members of the Housing Communities and Local Government Committee called for greater protection for vulnerable tenants, who knowingly exploit people.
The potential release of these properties back onto the market would increase housing supply for home buyers, but the bill comes in the midst of concerns that reducing the rental supply further, by excluding the poorest accommodation, is not generally in tenants’ interests.
The most vulnerable people affected by rogue landlord property are single-person households, people aged over 55 and people in receipt of housing benefit. Those in receipt of housing benefit found particular difficulty in moving home, as the Local Housing Allowance restricts them to the bottom end of the market and fewer than 20% of landlords will accept tenants on housing benefit. Tenants were often unwilling to complain to their landlord, for fear of retaliatory evictions, unfair rent increases, abuse or harassment.