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MPs clash on whether tenants should sue landlords over property conditions

Labour MP Karen Buck want private tenants to be able to sue their landlords if they rent in what are considered to be squalid conditions.

Buck, who represents Westminster North, is moving a Private Member’s Bill called the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill; if passed it would resurrect a law dating back to 1885.

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) – figures set back in 1957. Under much more recent legislation, the Housing Act of 2004, landlords can be forced to make repairs by local councils but the authorities tend to act only on tenants’ complaints, and have few resources to pro-actively inspect the private rental accommodation.

Only 2,006 landlords have been convicted of offences under the Housing Act 2004 so Buck wants legislation that would reflect, in her words, “a growth in the numbers of landlords who try to cut corners and get away with letting out substandard accommodation.”

However, Conservative MP Philip Davies - who is both a tenant himself, and a landlord - says the measure is unnecessary. 

He told MPs duriing the debate on Buck’s Bill: “[It’s] as if [landlords] have nothing else to do but wade through legislation generated by this House. The overwhelming majority of landlords, and I will put myself in this category, want to do the right thing and wouldn’t ever dream of renting out a property that isn’t in a fit state to be rented out and want to comply with every regulation that’s introduced.”

He added that “we’ve had lots and lots of legislation that affects landlords - let’s get to grips with what we think the law should be for landlords, let’s make it reasonable and sensible and let’s just leave it at that.”

Buck’s Bill is still going through the Commons but historically, few Private Member’s Bills progress into law.

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