Private Tenants' Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:57 pm on 8th November 1983.

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Photo of Mr Allan Roberts Mr Allan Roberts , Bootle 3:57 pm, 8th November 1983

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give the tenants of private landlords the right to buy their dwellings and the right to repair and maintenance; to provide for full information as to the identity of their landlord; and for other related purposes. The Bill would give the tenants of private landlords new and comprehensive rights and provide a real tenants' charter for all private tenants.

It is widely accepted that the 12 per cent. of the population who rent from private landlords are the most disadvantaged of all residential occupiers as they live in the worst maintained, highest cost housing in the country, often suffering from lack of security and often harassed by their landlords. I wish to introduce the Bill in response to requests from tenants in my constituency, where in the old town of Bootle and the older parts of Litherland well over 40 per cent. of the population still rent from private landlords and suffer intolerable housing conditions. It follows, also, representations from private tenants' organisations. The Bill seeks to eradicate bad landlordism, put private tenants on an equal footing with those in other tenures and facilitate the decline of the private rented sector over a period of years as it is appropriately transferred into owner occupation and social ownership.

The Bill will extend the right to buy to private tenants. If the Government are sincere about their claim to want to encourage owner occupation, why do they not allow the tenants of private landlords the right to buy their homes which council tenants have? Landlords also wish to sell their houses for owner occupation, but with vacant possession, and not to sitting tenants. Therefore, they often harass their tenants, forcing them out on to the street.

The Bill will include a provision to allow tenants to require their landlords to transfer their properties to socially responsible ownership. The bodies eligible for that purpose will be local authorities, housing associations and housing co-operatives.

The Labour party believes that people should oven their own homes either as owner-occupiers or collectively through a form of social ownership. In the last analysis, we do not believe that people should own other people's homes and profiteer from housing need. Without the Bill, the private rented sector will decline anyway as landlords force their tenants out and sell their properties. My proposal will speed the decline, stop profiteering and protect tenants.

Until the private rented sector has, with the help of the Bill, declined into near oblivion, private tenants will need protection. The Bill will therefore include provisions for increasing security of tenure. It is now a well documented fact that since the Housing Act 1980, the 1980s equivalent of the Tory Housing Act 1957, which led directly to Rachmanism, it is virtually impossible for a private tenant to obtain security of tenure with any new letting.

The use of licence agreements instead of tenancies, the use of bogus holiday lets, company lets, bed and board lets, rental purchase exploitation, shortholds and assured tenancies and the abuse of the resident landlord provision have made evasion and avoidance of basic security the norm rather than the exception.

The Bill will give security of tenure to all residential occupiers, except for certain limited exclusions which will need a licence from the relevant local authority.

Provisions will be introduced dealing with rent regulations and subsidies. All charges for accommodation will be subject to rent regulation procedures. Such procedures will also apply to service charges, another area of exploitation of tenants by landlords. The law against harassment and illegal eviction will be strengthened significantly. It is widely recognised that the provisions of the Rent Act 1977 for protecting tenants against harassment are inadequate. It offers little, if any, protection against harassment tactics such as the intermittent disconnection of services, interference with mail, persistent and unnotified visits and unsolicited and unwarranted letters. Harassment is widespread and has reached epidemic proportions in some areas.

Tenants suffer high levels of distress and serious damage to health when landlords do not fulfil their repairing obligations. The Bill will establish minimum housing standards and tenants will be given clear rights to force landlords to meet their responsibilities or to force local authorities to undertake works in default.

Local authorities will have an important role in policing the private rented sector and bringing properties into socially responsible ownership. The Bill will make mandatory the existing and extensive discretionary powers that are available to local authorities in this sphere. Tenants will be able to require local authorities to take action against recalcitrant landlords.

Many private tenants are unaware of their rights, and landlords exploit such lack of knowledge. Many tenants do not even know the names of their landlords. Tenants should be provided with full information as to their rights and landlords' responsibilities in this matter. Landlords should be required to issue rent books which show clearly their own as well as their agents' names and addresses.

The Bill is aimed at protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our community—certainly those most badly housed—often the single, the single-parent family and the transient resident. It represents the modest demands of tenants, and includes measures that will lead to the inevitable ending of most private landlord accommodation.

As the nation's housing crisis intensifies, with fewer public sector houses for rent being constructed, and waiting lists and homelessness increasing, the Bill becomes essential. Private landlords are running riot as more and more people are forced to depend on private renting because they can no longer gain access to other forms of tenure. Regrettably, dependency often leads to exploitation. We are beginning to face a housing crisis similar to that of the 1950s and early 1960s. When property is scarce and costs are high, those in greatest need suffer most. Many of those in greatest need must rent from private landlords. They need the protection of the House. I seek leave to bring in a Bill that affords such protection.