On the 12th January 2016, a proposed amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill was voted out by a majority of MPs in Parliament. This proposed amendment would have forced landlords to make sure rented homes were fit for human habitation.
The majority of MPs voted against generally requiring landlords to keep rented homes fit for human habitation. At the time of the vote previous legislation requiring fitness for human habitation had ceased to have effect but the test had been replaced with powers for local authorities to compel landlords to tackle serious hazards.
In light of the tragedy at Grenfell Tower this week, some serious questions now have to be dealt with. Housing campaign group Shelter have long known that about a third of all rented properties in the UK fall below a decent standard, and what’s more, the existing legislation does not adequately protect tenants who complain about the standard of their properties, or who request repairs. Revenge Evictions have been known about for some time. My family were the victims of a revenge eviction a few years ago. The procedure for compelling landlords to make repairs and address hazards is one which involves over-stretched council resources. Under s. 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015, the process is essentially as follows: a tenant must have asked the landlord for repairs. If the response from the landlord is not satisfactory, the tenant must then involve the council. Only after the council has conducted an inspection of the property and then issued a demand to the landlord to make repairs does a tenant become protected against “Retaliatory Evictions”, leaving landlords free to evict a tenant immediately after a complaint is first made by the tenant.
Of course, this therefore leaves scope for the issues of repairs to remain unaddressed. A new tenant may move into a property which has not had the repairs dealt with. And not all tenants will make complaints. The research by Shelter suggests that those on housing benefit are less likely to do so out of fear of eviction.
But the awful events in London this week have shown that the current situation is just not good enough, particularly as far as the government's willingness to protect tenants on a general level is concerned. Around 71 of the Tory MPs who voted out the proposed amendment were themselves private landlords. It’s time that they now faced some accountability. Incredibly, people on social media seemed outraged that the events were politicised, but this is most definitely a political issue.
The process for compelling landlords to make repairs is too convoluted. Tenants are not sufficiently protected from being evicted once they complain. And it doesn’t end there. The government knew about the fire risk to this building. It was simply ignored.
And yet frighteningly, it doesn’t end there, either. A few years ago, Boris Johnson closed several fire stations in London and cuts to services have left them poorly equipped to deal with tragedies like this.
This was a catastrophe caused by multiple failures, and I think it speaks volumes about how the government views tenants.
My local MP, Marcus Fysh, is one of those MPs who voted against the amendment to the Housing and Planning bill.
I asked him about it on Twitter.
This was his answer.
Encouraging councils to use the laborious procedures available to them clearly isn't working.
Whilst we still have no answers about this horrific situation, Shelter say that the proposed amendment would not have avoided the tragedy as it would not have covered fire safety in communal parts of social housing.
However, my own view is that even if this is the case, the vote against this amendment demonstrates the political inadequacies and the general outlook of our Tory government towards tenants as a whole. Voting against a piece of law that has a general ethos of protecting tenants shows us where their loyalties lay.
The tragedy in London may turn out to have been an avoidable one, and one which several factors contributed towards. I can accept that the amendment has nothing to do with it. But I say it's about time the government looked seriously at their attitude towards tenants as a whole.