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Renewed call to make homes fit for habitation after Grenfell

Katie Coyne12/07/2017 - 16:07

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A new bill protecting tenants will be presented to Parliament
A new bill protecting tenants will be presented to Parliament

A law that would make all rented homes fit for human habitation that was voted down by the Conservatives is set for a reprieve.

The move coincides with calls from a coalition of campaigners for the Government to implement a range of housing measures following the Grenfell tragedy.

The proposed change in the law has been previously blocked by the Conservatives several times but Labour MP Karen Buck, behind the plan, is having another go.

Ms Buck, MP for Westminster North, plans to file the official title of the bill on Wednesday. ‘This time round the case is at least as strong, or stronger,’ she said, although if accepted it will not be heard until the autumn.

Heather Kennedy founder of housing campaign group Digs was more optimistic. She said following the Grenfell tragedy: ‘There has been a real shift about, what the popular view is, what the public would support regards to housing.

‘There’s a huge amount of support for change like the fit for habitation bill.  It would be incredibly difficult for Conservative MPs to vote it down, to say “we aren’t going to introduce this bill because it’s too difficult” for landlords.’

A private members bill ‘Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill’ was tabled by Ms Buck in 2015 but was ‘talked out’ by Conservative MPs including Philip Davies, MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire, who said the bill would put a ‘huge burden’ on landlords.

Ms Buck attempted to introduce an amendment to the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill but again this was voted down by Conservative MPs. It has been widely reported that 72 of these Conservative MPs are themselves landlords.

In addition to ensuring that homes are fit for human habitation, Digs alongside other groups - including Generation Rent, Renters Power Project, Advice4Renters, ACORN, Renters’ Rights London, and the Radical Housing Network - have called for a number of changes following Grenfell.

The group stated: ‘The fire at Grenfell is a horrific indictment of a broken housing system. Like the residents of Grenfell, we have been consistently calling for better rights and safety protections for renters for many years, calls which have gone largely ignored.

‘The Grenfell fire has exposed gross failings on the part of governments and institutions, and the urgent need for proper regulations to keep us safe and a mass programme of public house building. It also highlights the total inadequacy of the rental sector to provide people with the safe, secure housing they should be able to rely on, as a human right.

‘Social and private tenants lived side by side as neighbours in Grenfell Tower. The same is true of most other estates across the UK, as public housing has been sold to private landlords. It's absolutely unacceptable that renters, both social and private, are being ignored, endangered and treated as second class citizens.’

They are calling on the government to act immediately and demands include: fire safety and cladding checks to be made mandatory for private landlords and not just councils; requirement to check immigration status scrapped; and a mandatory licensing scheme to ensure basic legal, safety, and competence standards in privately rented homes.

Ms Kennedy added: ‘We have many forms of non-mandatory regulations. We have RLAS accreditation, we have Boris Johnson’s London rental standards. We have all these rental standards and they do absolutely nothing. We know of nobody to have been thrown off these schemes for bad practice. They are funded and run by landlords. You will always have the professional landlords signing up and the fringe, criminal landlords won’t sign up.’

The group is also calling for all evacuees – following the news that some of the cladding used on tower blocks is unsafe – both private and council, to be rehoused in local temporary homes. They also raise concerns over cladding used in the Government’s Green Deal energy efficiency scheme.

Protection from eviction must be provided and long-term tenancies must become the norm so renters can put down roots as well as have the security to raise safety issues without being threatened with eviction. Rent controls are also being called for so that no one pays more than a third of their income on rent.

Ms Kennedy said: ‘There is a great political appetite for rent controls. The genie is out of the bottle. People have been very politicised by [Grenfell] people have been saying we are not willing to accept this anymore. What seemed impossible a year ago may now be possible.’

Focusing on the capital, she added: ‘London is the only large capital city that doesn’t have rent regulation. There is recognition that there is an almost infinite amount of investment money that can flow into and push up rents and house prices.

‘Renters in London are in a situation you have to search around desperately to find something vaguely decent and make all these compromises – that you don’t have a living room, that you accept the landlord is a bit dodgy because he doesn’t want to protect your deposit, or you have to pay £500 more than you can afford – and don’t have consumer power.’

But it’s not just a problem in London. The group of housing campaigners say that across the country almost 12 million people, a third of whom are families, live in largely unregulated, private rented housing.

Appetite for change is strong according to Rima Amin, campaigns advisor at Change.org. She said: ‘in the last few weeks on Change.org we have seen over half a million people come together to take action in response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.

‘They are campaigning on a vast range of issues including: implementing fire safety measures, getting support for those affected, ensuring the upcoming inquiry is transparent, accountability for those responsible and recognition for the fire service.’

Some of these campaigns have had immediate effect such as the campaign to bring the parents of Syrian refugee Mohammed Alhajali, 23, who was a victim of Grenfell tower, to the UK so they could attend their son's funeral.

Some 50,000 people supported the campaign and the Home Office agreed to grant visas on compassionate grounds.

Ms Amin said other campaigns were ongoing such as calls to ensure transparency in the Grenfell investigation and that comments under the signatures detailed what individual actions people were taking such as writing to MPs and their local council. 


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