If this all sounds very familiar, that’s because a similar bill was brought forward by the same MP two years ago – only to see it talked out by opposing MPs. Generation Rent supported that bill at the time and is very happy to be able to do so again.
By making a simple change to the law (and thus fitting well with the form and purpose of private member’s bills), a new means of redress will be opened up to renters, who will be able to seek action through the courts where a property is in an unfit condition.
The bill also goes further than its previous incarnation by applying to all parts of the building which are owned by the landlord (and so particularly relevant to blocks of flats), and by giving tenants the right to take action against builders who have done work on the property that has resulted in injury or death, even when the landlord commissioned that work.
In a context where cuts to local authorities are continuing to bite and where environmental health enforcement action remains at low levels, it’s very important that private tenants are empowered to take action where there is clear cause to do so.
Of course, to really give tenants the confidence to take action against their landlord, security of tenure needs to be improved so that the threat of eviction doesn’t hang over them.
Private renters also need access to legal support to effectively improve conditions, and this means restoring legal aid to take action against a range of housing offences, where it has been cut in recent years.
A final word must be said in relation to the Grenfell Fire disaster, in the wake of which the previous ‘Fit for Human Habitation’ bill was often referenced. Grenfell has shown that in various ways, and in a range of circumstances, the law around safety in the UK’s homes, and the mechanisms to enforce current legislation, are not adequate.
Now that the consequences of such manifest failings are being discussed, there should be a much greater willingness to listen to those who want to reform the system and give tenants greater rights and protections. But we also need to make sure that this attention translated into real changes.
In the private member’s bill system, it’s vital to have as large a turnout of MPs for the second reading, which are often not whipped by parties and which fall on Fridays, when many MPs are back in their constituencies, away from parliament.
Karen Buck has already secured cross-party support for her bill, and is backed by the housing sector more generally. As we move towards the second reading in the new year, we need to ensure we are getting as many parliamentarians to support the bill, and that means contact from their constituents.
The bill now provides an early opportunity for parliament to show it will take action to protect tenants across the country in the wake of the horror of Grenfell. We must now do all we can to make this bill law.