In the Aftermath of the Grenfell Tower Tragedy, How Can the Law be Updated to Afford Greater Protection to Tenants?

Joianne Als-McClean assesses the potential impact of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill

In 2015, Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, proposed the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill. Its purpose is to ensure that homes are suitable for human habitation by giving tenants the right to take legal action against landlords who provide unsafe, defective accommodation. According to Karen Buck, the aim of the legislation is to deter those landlords who “try to cut corners and get away with letting out sub-standard accommodation.”

The law as it stands is woefully inadequate.  While section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 provides that tenants have the right to live in accommodation which is fit for human habitation, it is only applicable to properties where the annual rent is £80 or less in London and £52 or less elsewhere. Given that the rent limits in the Act have not changed since 1957 and are clearly unrealistic in today’s housing market, the provisions of section 8 do little to protect tenants who find themselves in unsatisfactory accommodation.

Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 implies into all tenancy agreements an obligation on landlords to keep in repair the structure, installations and exterior of properties. This is unhelpful to tenants where a design defect renders the property hazardous since the landlord is not be caught by section 11 unless there has been some deterioration or disrepair to the structure or installations of the property. The absence of fire doors and fire alarms, for example, whilst clearly hazardous, does not constitute disrepair pursuant to section 11. Moreover, the presence of condensation and black mould, is not actionable under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 because it does not represent structural disrepair.

The Housing Act 2004 provides limited protection to tenants in that landlords can be compelled by local councils to undertake repairs to minimise hazards in their properties. However, the Act has various shortcomings, including the fact that individuals cannot themselves request an official investigation of potential hazards by the local authority. A further weakness is that local authorities cannot serve Improvement Notices on themselves. As a result, tenants in social housing in particular have no recourse to the limited protections afforded by the Housing Act 2004.

It is clear, then, that the law in its current state does little to prevent another tragedy like that which affected the residents of Grenfell Tower in June 2017, from occurring again.

What does the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill aim to achieve?

The Bill seeks to update the current law found in section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Its aim is to ensure that housing is fit for human habitation by amending the rental threshold so that it is up-to-date to reflect today’s market.

However, the Bill goes further than section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, by:

  • Setting out that properties must be fit for human habitation at the start of the tenancy; and
  • Setting out that the landlord must keep the property in a state which is fit for human habitation thereafter.

The Bill also provides that the landlord’s obligation to ensure fitness for human habitation extends to any part of the building that he has an estate in and not just the specific property demised.

Where does the Bill stand now?

The Bill has already passed its first reading in July 2017 and is due for its second reading on the 19 January 2018.