According to a report recently published by legal academics and commissioned by the charity Shelter (Helen Carr et al, Closing the gaps: health and safety at home
, November 2017), the law around health and safety in rented homes ‘is piecemeal, outdated, complex, dependent upon tenure, and patchily enforced’ (page 1). The report calls for legislation to provide better legal protection for tenants and a change in culture among landlords and public authorities to become more proactive in protecting the health and safety of people who occupy rented premises.
The bill proposed by Buck would give powers to all tenants to take action on health and safety standards. It would add an implied term to all tenancy agreements granted for a period of less than seven years that the premises must be fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy and maintained throughout the tenancy period. According to Buck, the idea of the bill is not to replace existing powers exercised by local authorities over rented premises, but to complement them, and to enable tenants to take action if a council does not.
Diane Astin, housing lawyer and author of the Housing Law Handbook (3rd edn, LAG, 2015), welcomed the bill: ‘A private law right for tenants to take action to make a landlord make a dwelling fit for habitation is clearly a very good thing.’ She believes any new law would need to be backed up by providing legal aid to tenants so they are able to enforce it.
Astin condemned the changes made by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to the scope of disrepair claims as ‘stupid’ and said this, combined with the raising of the small claims limit to £10,000, currently ‘makes the funding of disrepair claims very difficult’.
Legal Action urges all readers to write to their MPs to ask them to support Buck’s bill. It is rare for a private members’ bill to become law, as MPs opposed to it can ‘talk it out’. The bill receives its second reading on 19 January 2018 and 100 MPs must attend this to ensure it can progress through the legislative process.