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MP resumes bid to allow private tenants to sue over squalid conditions

Labour MP Karen Buck is to reintroduce her Private Members Bill into Parliament today - and if it is passed, she hopes private tenants will be able to sue their landlords if they rent a property considered to be in a squalid condition.

Buck, who represents Westminster North, is reintroducing the 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 far.

When Buck introduced the Bill on the first occasion, a year ago, she explained that she wanted legislation to counter, in her words at the time, “a growth in the numbers of landlords who try to cut corners and get away with letting out substandard accommodation.”

David Smith, policy director at the Residential Landlords Association, has welcomed the return of the Bill.

“Tenants have a right to expect that homes are fit for habitation, and the vast majority of good landlords already provide this. This Bill therefore reinforces what landlords should already be doing” he says.

“By providing a route to direct tenant enforcement of basic housing standards the Bill will give a further opportunity to deal with the minority of landlords who have no place in the market. Current legislation often lets these criminals off the hook due to underfunded councils being unable to properly enforce it. We look forward to working with Ms Buck as the Bill is developed and considered in Parliament.”

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    If all residential rentals went through licensed landlords or agents the problem would be greatly reduced almost immediately

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    Landlords also need protection from slum tenants.

    I always clean and refurbish as necessary after a let. Currently I have two properties which have been vacated. One was a six month let. The house is now filthy. No attempt has been made to keep the house ventilated and clear mould from the window frames. We have also been left with rubbish to clear, old car parts in the garage and open bowls of old engine oil.

    The other has been let for about five years. It is disgusting inside. Mould is everywhere, walls are dirty and the kitchen units are water damaged. The carpets are filthy. The paint work is filthy. I used to live there and it was absolutely fine if you cleaned and let some fresh air in occasionally - just like any other house.

    Please will someone get it through their (***) heads that a lot of tenants' squalid living is down to themselves. No amount of licensing is going to solve this and ultimately landlords are going to have to resort to short period tenancies with renewal only after inspection - at cost to the tenant.

    As a landlord it is very tempting to let properties as you find because you know that's how they will come back to you. I am not tempted but it is a close call. Other landlords clearly take the alternative option.

    Of course there are bad properties and bad landlords and there are already plenty of laws to handle them. It is about time we had some laws to handle obnoxious tenants as well. Tenants need to get together and make sure that they comply with good standards of cleanliness and general house holding.
    Oh dear, I have been dreaming. I guess the people who want all these laws do that as well.

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