Housing specialists have been working on a private members bill that empowers tenants to force their landlords to fix hazards that pose a serious threat to their health and safety.
The homes (fitness for human habitation and liability for housing standards) bill 2017-19 will have its second reading in the House of Commons in January. The bill has been sponsored by Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North and chair of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid.
Solicitor Giles Peaker, a partner at London firm Anthony Gold Solicitors, and barrister Justin Bates, of Arden Chambers in London, have been working with Buck on the bill.
Discussing fire and safety issues in social housing following the Grenfell Tower fire, Peaker told an APPG meeting on Wednesday that, under the bill, tenants will be able to take action against their landlord to fix a 'category one' hazard in their building, not just in their flat.
Examples of category one hazards include: exposed wiring or overloaded electrical sockets; a dangerous or broken boiler; leaking roof; mould on the wall or ceiling; broken steps at the top of the stairs; and lack of security due to badly fitting external doors or lock problems.
Highlighting safety concerns that Grenfell Tower residents are understood to have raised prior to the fire in June, Peaker told the meeting that the tragedy highlighted a two-fold problem: the lack of legal aid and the lack of legal means to address concerns.
For instance, section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 deals with disrepair to the building structure and exterior, including drains, gutters and external pipes. 'It has to be broken. It has to be in a state worse than it was before, otherwise it does not fall under section 11. Something about the property could be incredibly dangerous but not broken, at which point there's nothing you can do about it under section 11.'
Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 enables tenants to take action where their premises is affected by a 'statutory nuisance'. However, the provision applies to a particular property and not to the building as a whole.
Tenants could bring a private prosecution in the magistrates' court, Peaker acknowledged. However, he said, 'these are not fun. They can technically be difficult to bring'.