“The habitable homes bill could transform lives. MPs must back it”

“This coming Friday, 19 January, a bill is to be debated in parliament that could hugely improve the lives of many people in England.

“The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill would give private and social tenants the ability to take landlords to court if their home is unsafe. Over a million homes are thought to pose a serious threat to the health or safety of the people living there. This classification, also known as a “category 1 hazard”, covers 795,000 private tenancies – one in six of the privately rented homes in the country.

The government announced support for the bill on 14 January – a relief for those of us who have campaigned for years on this. But the battle is not over yet. Even with government support, if fewer than 100 supporters show up on the day, a single MP could “talk the bill to death” – delivering a speech so long that there would be no time to vote on it.

The bill is necessary. Currently, if a landlord doesn’t respond to a request for repairs, it is up to the council to enforce the law. That entails a visit from environmental health officers to check for hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), such as mould, excess cold and fire risks. If any are found, they can compel the landlord to address them by issuing a formal enforcement notice – if flouted, prosecution awaits. …

… Incredibly, Friday’s bill proposes changes to a law that has existed since 1885. But there is one huge drawback: it is based on rent levels that haven’t been raised since 1957. So you have an option to take action only if you pay annual rent of less than £80 in London or £52 elsewhere. Average weekly rents in London are now £362 a week.

Buck’s bill would abolish the rent cap, enabling tenants to bring civil proceedings in the county court when a property is unfit for habitation under the Housing Act 2004. The landlord may even be made to pay compensation for the period for which the property was unfit.”