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homeTuesday 2nd June 2020

Lift the burden

Philip Davies11/11/2015 - 13:41

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Other housing sectors 'can also be bad'
Other housing sectors 'can also be bad'

Last week Karen Buck MP wrote an article for us lamenting the defeat of her private members bill to giver renters the right to sue for uninhabitable conditions. Now Philip Davies, the Conservative MP and landlord, who talked the bill out, defends his tactics and makes the case for less regulation of the PRS. 

MPs are responsible for passing laws and that role should be taken very seriously. I believe that each and every law which places an additional burden on someone should be closely scrutinised in parliament before it is given approval.

Some MPs just want to keep introducing law after law after law. Once one change has been made they are onto the next thing. This is certainly the case when it comes to this particular subject area. I am not sure anyone could reasonably argue that we do not already have a substantial amount of legislation covering landlords and tenants.  In my opinion, we need to be streamlining much of this - not introducing more law and creating additional burdens on landlords.

Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill was before parliament last month and, in this case, was promoted as a sort of tidying up exercise to reflect modern values for renting.

However, this was not quite the case. Instead of uprating the rental values so that the homes originally intended to be included in the fitness for human habitation provisions would be covered, it actually would have meant that nearly all privately rented properties would have been covered.

Yet when the legislation was first introduced way back in 1885 it was to prevent the very poor in society who did not have the myriad of other protections that have been put in place in the many years since.   

I am not alone in this thinking. Karen Buck’s Bill was based on calls from the Law Commission.  In their report on the subject back in 1996 they said:

 ‘The view that the implied fitness standard may have been regarded as largely obsolete once the particular social evils of lack of proper sanitation and overcrowding for which it was enacted had been contained, derives support from certain judicial observations.  Thus the legislation was considered to be applicable to “letting of premises of a particular class and occupied by poor people unable to defend themselves”.’

It won’t have escaped people’s attention that we had a Labour Government for nearly a decade and a half after the report called for changes and yet, even with their eagerness to legislate, they did not act.

The bill would also have brought in category 1 hazards under the fitness for human habitation provisions so would have extended the original criteria.

Landlords already have many obligations – including those under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in relation to repairs and maintenance. There are also common law obligations relating to fitness for human habitation.

There will always be people who are unhappy with their accommodation for one reason or another and there will always be landlords whose actions are not ideal (whether through incompetence, inexperience or a deliberate act). I believe it is essential to look at the whole picture though to understand the context and therefore the proportionality of any response.  According to the 2012-13 English Housing Survey, 84 per cent of private renters said that they were very or fairly satisfied with their accommodation, with just 10 per cent either slightly or very dissatisfied.

I think it is also worth remembering that around 4/5ths of all landlords only own a single dwelling for rent.

In the interests of balance, it is also worth pointing out that there can be bad tenants too and this is something that those who sometimes demonise landlords avoid mentioning. As a landlord and a tenant myself I can see the issue from both points of view!

One question I have for those in favour of this legislation is – should it cover all properties – i.e. not just privately rented ones? The talk has all been about the state of rented accommodation but the Law Commission’s Report looked at “unfit housing by tenure” and it is very interesting indeed to note that it was not just properties in the private rented sector which were deemed to be unfit. 

In fact, when the report was undertaken, in England 5.5 per cent of properties that were owner occupied were said to be unfit.  Just to be clear this is people who live in their own properties where that property is said to be unfit. In Wales the position is even more bleak.  11.9 per cent of owner occupied properties were said to be unfit.

To try to see if there was any more up to date information on this, I looked at the latest English Housing Survey.  It says that 17.3 per cent of people who bought their homes in the last 3 years and 19.8 per cent of older owner-occupiers had homes, which were classed as non-decent.   

If the concern is about properties being decent and fit for human habitation then shouldn’t this bill have covered all properties and not just those in the private rented sector?  Isn’t that actually the logical conclusion of the argument? If this is not about burdening landlords then I am sure that must be the case.

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