Housing

"Everyone deserves to live in a safe, warm and decent home. Millions don’t"

Karen Buck MP's Private Member's Bill to improve the rights of renters and housing standards gets Government backing ahead of second reading

Rent debt and eviction bans need tackling during the Covid-19 pandemic

Credit: iStock / Getty / oversnap

Good news for renters. A new law guaranteeing that rented properties are of a standard fit for human habitation is set to come one step closer this week.

The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill is proposed legislation brought forward by Karen Buck, the Labour MP for Westminster North.

It seeks to set new standards for rented homes and give tenants new rights to take legal action against landlords who fail to uphold these standards.

One million homes in this country are unfit. We must do more to tackle this and give tenants the rights they need

A second reading in the House of Commons looks set to pass after new Housing Secretary Sajid Javid announced that the Government will back the bill, which will affect tenants in the private rental sector and social housing.

Ahead of the second reading, Buck told The Big Issue: “Everyone deserves to live in a safe, warm and decent home. Millions don’t.

“So I am genuinely delighted to have government backing for my private member’s bill, which will update the law to require landlords to ensure rented homes are ‘fit for human habitation’, and not just free from disrepair.

Karen Buck MP
Karen Buck MP

“This means issues like severe damp and mould, cold, infestations and fire risks that aren’t a result of disrepair but arise from the design of structure of the property will be covered, and that tenants in both private and social homes can go to court to enforce their rights.

“We still have a way to go through the parliamentary process, but this is an important and welcome step. One million homes in this country are unfit. We must do more to tackle this, and to give tenants the rights they need.”

This seems the absolute minimum that the law should demand from landlords

If the bill passes this week’s second reading as expected, it will head to the committee stage. Should the Bill reach the House of Lords, it is likely to have at least one high profile backer.

“Housing the rental sector should be fit for human habitation. This seems the absolute minimum that the law should demand from landlords,” says The Big Issue’s Lord John Bird.

“The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire has put poor quality housing – and landlords – squarely in the spotlight. Renters in both the private and social sector have little power in this country.

“At The Big Issue, we’re working to give tenants fairer access to more affordable credit – that’s what the rental exchange and my Creditworthiness Assessment Bill is all about.

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“This bill will further empower renters to hold rogue landlords to account, and I’m glad to see Sajid Javid has thrown his support behind it. But we need more bipartisanship and meaningful cross-party action.

“It’s the only way that parliament can get on with the job of dismantling the root causes of poverty.”

This is the third time a bill of this kind has come before parliament in recent years. And previously, bipartisanship was in short supply.

The time is absolutely right to focus on the quality of our nation’s housing

Back in 2015, Buck first introduced the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Bill to require “that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation.”

However, the bill was talked out so could not be put to a vote.

The following year the bill was reintroduced as an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, to place: “a duty on landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for habitation when let and remain fit during the course of the tenancy.”

On this occasion, 309 Conservative MPs, two from the DUP and one from Ukip combined to vote down the amendment. But following Javid’s intervention, it could be third time lucky for Buck’s Bill.

A spokesperson for the National Housing Federation welcomed the proposals and the focus on quality of rented accommodation.

“The National Housing Federation fully supports the bill’s ambition to ensure all homes are fit for human habitation.

“The time is absolutely right to focus on the quality of our nation’s housing. In parts of the private sector many face poor and unstable conditions and the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower has thrown into sharp relief the failings of the nation’s buildings and fire safety regulatory system.

“We will engage in the process and work closely with Karen Buck and her colleagues to ensure the Bill supports the delivery and management of good quality, affordable homes.”

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