England: MPs to vote to let tenants sue negligent landlords

Karen Buck MP
Karen Buck MP

Private renters living in squalid conditions could get the ability to sue their landlord if MPs approve a Private Member’s Bill today.

Labour MP Karen Buck will introduce the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill for its Second Reading in the Commons which, if passed, would resurrect a law from 1885 which has been rendered obsolete by nearly sixty years of rent inflation.

Tenants already have the right to a home that is fit for human habitation, but only if the rent is less than £52 per annum (or £80 in London) – limits last revised in 1957.

Both the Law Commission in 1996 and the Court of Appeal in 1997 called for the archaic rent limits to be scrapped, but successive governments have failed to act.

Introduced in June this year, the bill will amend the Landlord and Tenant Act, seeking to impose some controls and duties on the operation of landlords in the private rented sector. It will seek to force private landlords to ensure that their premises are fit for habitation and that there is a transparent and accountable line operating through tenant, landlord and local authority.

Currently negligent landlords can be forced to make repairs by local councils, but the teams tasked with enforcing the law are under-resourced.

Citizens Advice found this year that 16 percent of private rented properties are physically unsafe – 740,000 households in total. Yet only 2,006 landlords have been convicted of offences under the 2004 Housing Act. Allowing tenants to bypass the council and take their landlord to court directly would help protect them from unsafe conditions.

The bill protects the landlord from being liable for damage that is the tenant’s fault.

Karen Buck MP said: “The growth in numbers of private renters has been matched by a growth in the numbers of landlords who try to cut corners and get away with letting out substandard accommodation. No one should have to live in an unfit home and this small tweak to the law should give them much greater protection.”

Betsy Dillner, director of Generation Rent, added: “It is outrageous that tenants would already have this right were it not for the laziness of successive governments to keep the law up-to-date with reality. Removing the rent limits would restore some sanity to the law, ease the strain on local councils, and bring renting into the 21stcentury.”

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