Fitness for human habitation

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 20th June 2018.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 9:25 am, 20th June 2018

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 2, at end insert—

“( ) In section 8 (implied terms as to fitness for human habitation)—

(a) in the heading, after ‘habitation’ insert ‘: Wales’;

(b) in subsection (1), after ‘house’, in the first place it occurs, insert ‘in Wales’.”

This amendment would ensure that the existing section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (which imposes an implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation but only in relation to leases falling within certain rent limits) will continue to apply so far as relating to Wales. The substituted section 8 introduced by the Bill, which imposes the new implied covenant in relation to England, will be re-numbered as section 9A (see Amendment 2).

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out from beginning to “Fitness” in line 4 and insert—

“( ) After section 9 (application of section 8 to certain houses occupied by agricultural workers) insert—

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 3, line 45, leave out

“and Liability for Housing Standards”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 15.

Amendment 9, in clause 1, page 4, line 2, at end insert—

(1) This section applies where under a contract of employment of a worker employed in agriculture—

(a) the provision of a dwelling for the worker’s occupation forms part of the worker’s remuneration, and

(b) the provisions of section 9A (implied term as to fitness for human habitation) are inapplicable by reason only of the dwelling not being let to the worker.

(2) There is implied as part of the contract of employment (in spite of any stipulation to the contrary) a term having the same effect as the covenant that would be implied by section 9A if the dwelling were let by a lease to which that section applies.

(3) The provisions of section 9A apply accordingly—

(a) with the substitution of ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ for ‘lessor’ and ‘lessee’, and

(b) with such other modifications as may be necessary.

(4) This section does not affect—

(a) any obligation of a person other than the employer to repair a dwelling to which the covenant implied by section 9A applies by virtue of this section, or

(b) any remedy for enforcing such an obligation.”

This amendment, which replicates section 9 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in relation to the new implied covenant, is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 10, in clause 1, page 4, line 3, leave out subsection (3).

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 11, in clause 1, page 4, line 11, leave out sub-paragraph (i) and insert—

“(i) after ‘house’, in both places where it occurs, insert ‘or dwelling’;”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 12, in clause 1, page 4, line 15, before “any” insert

“in relation to a dwelling in England,”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 13, in clause 1, page 4, line 27, after “habitation” insert “of dwellings in England”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 14, in clause 1, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) In section 302 of the Housing Act 1985 (management and repair of houses acquired under section 300 or retained under section 301), in paragraph (c)—

(a) for ‘section 8’ substitute ‘sections 8 and 9A’, and

(b) for ‘does’ substitute ‘do’.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2

Amendment 15, in clause 2, page 4, line 32, leave out

“and Liability for Housing Standards”.

This amendment would change the short title of the Bill so as to leave out the reference to liability for housing standards (see the explanatory statement for Amendment 16).

Amendment 16, in title, line 3, leave out from “habitation;” to “and” in line 5.

This amendment would remove the second of the objects mentioned in the long title in relation to amendments of the Building Act 1984 making provision about liability for works not complying with the Building Regulations. There are no such amendments in the Bill so this part of the long title is unnecessary. As a consequence it is proposed that the short title of the Bill changes so as to leave out the reference to liability for housing standards (see Amendment 15).

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Wilson. I am very grateful to the Minister and to everyone who spoke on Second Reading and who has agreed to serve on this Committee.

The first group of amendments are broadly technical. With your permission, Mr Wilson, I will spend a minute or two setting them in the context of the Bill. I hope that that means we will not have to spend time later on clause stand part.

Clause 1 is, in effect, the Bill. It would amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to ensure that homes are required to be in a condition that is fit for human habitation at the beginning of the tenancy and throughout the tenancy. Landlords are not currently required to ensure that the properties they rent out are free of potentially harmful hazards. There are statutory obligations on most landlords to keep in repair the structure and exterior of their properties and to repair installations for the supply of water, heating, sanitation and so forth. However, provisions requiring landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation have ceased to have effect over the past half century as a result of the annual rent limits, which have not been updated.

This short Bill would amend the 1985 Act to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. There is to be an implied covenant in a lease that a landlord must ensure that their property is fit at the beginning of the tenancy and for its duration. Where a landlord fails to do so, the tenant would have the right to take action in the courts for breach of contract on the grounds that the property is unfit for human habitation.

Currently, tenants must rely on local authority environmental health departments to enforce against bad landlords on their behalf. As I found in my research with Dr Stephen Battersby, and as Generation Rent confirmed this weekend in its research, enforcement is wholly inadequate to the task almost everywhere, and non-existent in some places. If the tenancy is with the local authority, the position is even more restricted, since environmental health departments cannot enforce against themselves.

Despite a long-term improvement in housing conditions over recent years, around 1 million properties remain in such a state that they represent a serious hazard to health. That affects about 3 million people who are overwhelmingly the most vulnerable and deserve our protection.

The Bill would do three things: it would ensure that any home has to be fit for the tenant to live in; it would update the fitness standards; and it would apply the legislation to local authority housing as well as to other forms of rented housing. It would do so by replacing section 8 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in its entirety for England. The proposed new sections in the Bill set out the implied covenant regarding fitness, the various exemptions and the leases to which the implied covenant applies.

There are two groups of amendments to clause 1, the first being largely technical. Amendments 1 and 2 and 9 to 13 address the position of Wales. The Bill extends to tenancies in England only. Housing is a devolved matter and section 8 is a matter for the Welsh Government in Wales. Until any changes are made, sections 8 to 10 of the 1985 Act will continue to apply in Wales in their existing form. The amendments provide for that, while introducing the provisions of the Bill for England.

Amendments 8, 14 and 15 correct the short and long titles of the Bill to remove the wording that originally related to a contemplated clause addressing liability for failure to comply with building regulations. That clause was not brought forward on Second Reading, so the short and long titles should be amended to reflect that.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

It is a pleasure, Mr Wilson, to serve under your chairmanship.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Westminster North on successfully taking the Bill through Second Reading and, more generally, on raising awareness about the importance of improving standards in the rented housing market. I look forward to working with her as the Bill proceeds through its many stages.

We are in favour of these technical amendments and I have nothing more to add.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendment made: 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out from beginning to “Fitness” in line 4 and insert—

“( ) After section 9 (application of section 8 to certain houses occupied by agricultural workers) insert—

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 1, page 2, line 7, after “landlord” insert “or other third party”.

This amendment would ensure that a landlord will not be liable under the implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation in circumstances where the required remedial works require the consent of a third party if reasonable efforts to obtain the consent are made but the consent cannot be obtained.

Photo of Phil Wilson Phil Wilson Labour, Sedgefield

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 28, at end insert—

“( ) Where a lease to which this section applies of a dwelling in England forms part only of a building, the implied covenant has effect as if the reference to the dwelling in subsection (1) included a reference to any common parts of the building in which the lessor has an estate or interest.”

This amendment would extend the implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation in cases where the dwelling forms a part of a building to any of the building’s common parts in which the landlord has an estate or interest.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 38, at end insert—

“‘common parts’ has the meaning given by section 60(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987;”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 3, line 7, after “(4)” insert “, (4A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 7.

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 3, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Section 9A applies to a periodic or secure tenancy that comes into existence after the commencement date on expiry of a term of a lease granted before that date.”

This amendment would ensure that the implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation will apply to a periodic or secure tenancy that comes into existence after the date on which the Bill comes into force in a case where the tenancy arises out of a fixed term tenancy granted before that date.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Since Second Reading, I am very pleased to say that, with the co-operation of the Minister and the help of officials, we have been able to bring forward a planned amendment to extend the provisions of the Bill to common parts, which I will briefly explain.

Where a dwelling is part of a larger building—a room, for example, in a home in multiple occupation, a flat in a purpose-built block or a house that has been converted into flats—amendment 4 would extend the implied covenant of fitness, so that the whole dwelling would be fit for habitation, including any part of the building in which the landlord has an estate or an interest. That would include, for example, the outside walls and roof of a block of flats, and the internal common parts where the landlord owns the block.

If the common parts are in such a state that they present a risk to the health or wellbeing of the occupiers of the dwelling, the landlord will be required to take remedial action, subject to any exceptions available under, for example, the main amendments that we have made to clause 1. Amendment 4 is necessary to give effect to the purpose of the Bill, because without it the implied covenant would be restricted to the extent only of the demised property—that is, the flats—and would not catch, for example, fire safety hazards in the common parts.

Amendment 3 would ensure that where a landlord requires the consent of a third party—such as a neighbour, a superior landlord, a mortgage company or a public authority, such as one responsible for giving listed building consent—to carry out the works required to remedy unfitness, the landlord would not be liable if they had made reasonable efforts to obtain that consent but it had not been given.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

This is an excellent Bill, which I think we all support strongly. One issue that has raised concerns is the definition of “fitness” and who decides whether a building is fit or not. Is it the individual who has the lease or is it the landlord? Who makes that decision? Is there agreement on that matter with the Government and the Minister?

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

That matter has indeed been agreed with the Government and is included in the Bill. The Bill amends the fitness standards of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and updates them to incorporate part of the Housing Act 2004, which is basically the housing health and safety rating system. It will therefore be a more comprehensive and updated list.

In some cases, the tenant would still require an assessment to be carried out by the local authority before taking legal action under the Bill. In that sense, this legislation is complementary to the work that local authorities already carry out. In some cases, the tenant will make private arrangements for that, and in some cases the unfitness will be so evident that the tenant will be able to take action themselves by gathering photographic and other evidence that will clearly imply that the property is unfit.

In incorporating the updated fitness standards, we have made sure that we have future-proofed them, because I am conscious that there is a debate about the housing health and safety rating system and the risk-based approach. I am sure that there will be an opportunity to look at that again and consider how it can best be revised. We want to ensure that the Bill can incorporate any changes of that nature in the future.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

The hon. Lady is very kindly clearing up a few items. I am just thinking back to when I owned a flat that was originally in a leasehold property—four flats in a big Victorian house. We collectively bought out the freehold together. Is she content that the wording is tight enough to cover situations where there are multiple parts of freehold owner within one building?

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

The Bill relates to tenants, not leaseholders. It means that if a tenant is renting a property where there is more than one landlord, the provisions that I have just outlined will apply. The tenant will have recourse through their own landlord, but if the landlord is unable, after making reasonable efforts, to secure permission to make the changes required owing to other obligations, that constitutes an exemption under the legislation.

The wording of amendment 4 follows from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which imposes an equivalent liability on the landlord for section 11 repair obligations. The fitness requirements are therefore very much consistent with the repair obligations that are already well established.

The definition of common parts is taken from the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 and refers to

“any building or part of a building” including

“the structure and exterior of that building or part and any common facilities within it”.

The same definition is used in respect of section 11 of the 1985 Act. In effect, the amendments secure consistency between the main statutory repairing rights.

Amendments 6 and 7 clarify that the implied covenant applies to any periodic or secure tenancy arising after the commencement date at the end of the fixed-term tenancy granted before the commencement date. That would include a secure tenancy after, for example, an introductory tenancy, an assured tenancy after a fixed-term starter tenancy, or a statutory periodic tenancy arising at the end of a fixed-term assured shorthold tenancy.

Amendment 4 is the most substantial amendment relating to common parts. We were unable to table it on Second Reading, but I am extremely grateful for the work that has been done by officials working with Justin Bates and Giles Peaker, who were the two lawyers who helped to draft the original legislation. Working on the Bill over the last few months to ensure that it, as a whole, is fit for our purpose and to table these amendments has been an incredibly productive experience for us all. I hope that all hon. Members will support the amendments and clause 1.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I, too, congratulate everyone on the Bill team and all the lawyers who have been working on this matter. This is a sensible amendment that the Government accept and are very happy to support.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship on a Bill Committee for the first time, Mr Wilson. In the spirit in which my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North introduced the first group of amendments, perhaps I may deal with amendment 4 but also speak a little more widely. That may help you decide, Mr Wilson, whether we should have a clause stand part debate and how wide it should be.

I underline the Opposition’s continued strong support for the Bill. It sets out exactly the legal changes that Opposition Front Benchers tried to introduce two years ago into the Housing and Planning Bill. We were resisted at that time, which is why in January I warmly welcomed the Minister and the Conservative party’s change of approach. I also welcome the willingness of the Government to set up a second Committee to deal with the bottleneck that we had regarding private Members’ Bills that have reached this stage.

I pay tribute to the work that the Minister and her officials have done. They have not taken this private Member’s Bill and filleted it, as sometimes happens. On the contrary, on amendment 4 they have proved willing, as they suggested on Second Reading, to extend the basic provisions on the responsibility of landlords to make and keep fit for human habitation—not just to make repairs—to common parts as well. I strongly welcome that.

I, too, pay tribute to the advisers that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North has had in Giles Peaker and Justin Bates. They are among the finest housing lawyers in the country. The Committee and the House are very fortunate to have their unremunerated commitment and expertise behind the Bill.

Above all, I cannot let this opportunity go by without paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North. This really is the Buck Bill. This is not a hand-out Bill from Government, or a Bill prepared by an outside organisation and thrust into the hands of a Member who has come out high in the private Member’s Bill ballot. My hon. Friend has worked for a long time to develop the content of, and the case for, the legislation. She has also worked for some time to build the coalition of support behind the measures, which includes the Residential Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association.

The Bill is a really important step forward. My hon. Friend has mentioned the scale of the desperately bad, indefensible housing that too many people, as tenants, have to put up with across the country. You will be familiar with that, Mr Wilson, from many cases in your own part of the north-east. The provisions in the Bill are long overdue.

Finally, I say gently to the Minister that I am so glad that the Government have shifted their view and accepted, in this small way, the need to regulate more strongly a market that the Prime Minister herself described as “broken”. I hope it will be a first step towards some of the other changes that are clearly necessary, such as longer tenancies, controls on rents and greater licensing of private landlords. Will the Minister give us an indication of when mandatory electrical safety checks will see the light of day, given that they are already part of legislation? They would be a great complement to the provisions that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North is leading on for us today.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I have nothing further to add, other than to say that we support the amendment.

Amendment 3 agreed to.

Amendments made: 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 28, at end insert—

“( ) Where a lease to which this section applies of a dwelling in England forms part only of a building, the implied covenant has effect as if the reference to the dwelling in subsection (1) included a reference to any common parts of the building in which the lessor has an estate or interest.”

This amendment would extend the implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation in cases where the dwelling forms a part of a building to any of the building’s common parts in which the landlord has an estate or interest.

Amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 38, at end insert—

“‘common parts’ has the meaning given by section 60(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1987;”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 4.

Amendment 6, in clause 1, page 3, line 7, after “(4)” insert “, (4A)”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 7.

Amendment 7, in clause 1, page 3, line 20, at end insert—

“(4A) Section 9A applies to a periodic or secure tenancy that comes into existence after the commencement date on expiry of a term of a lease granted before that date.”

This amendment would ensure that the implied covenant as to fitness for human habitation will apply to a periodic or secure tenancy that comes into existence after the date on which the Bill comes into force in a case where the tenancy arises out of a fixed term tenancy granted before that date.

Amendment 8, in clause 1, page 3, line 45, leave out

“and Liability for Housing Standards”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 15.

Amendment 9, in clause 1, page 4, line 2, at end insert—

(1) This section applies where under a contract of employment of a worker employed in agriculture—

(a) the provision of a dwelling for the worker’s occupation forms part of the worker’s remuneration, and

(b) the provisions of section 9A (implied term as to fitness for human habitation) are inapplicable by reason only of the dwelling not being let to the worker.

(2) There is implied as part of the contract of employment (in spite of any stipulation to the contrary) a term having the same effect as the covenant that would be implied by section 9A if the dwelling were let by a lease to which that section applies.

(3) The provisions of section 9A apply accordingly—

(a) with the substitution of ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ for ‘lessor’ and ‘lessee’, and

(b) with such other modifications as may be necessary.

(4) This section does not affect—

(a) any obligation of a person other than the employer to repair a dwelling to which the covenant implied by section 9A applies by virtue of this section, or

(b) any remedy for enforcing such an obligation.”

This amendment, which replicates section 9 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in relation to the new implied covenant, is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 10, in clause 1, page 4, line 3, leave out subsection (3).

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 11, in clause 1, page 4, line 11, leave out sub-paragraph (i) and insert—

“(i) after ‘house’, in both places where it occurs, insert ‘or dwelling’;”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 12, in clause 1, page 4, line 15, before “any” insert

“in relation to a dwelling in England,”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 13, in clause 1, page 4, line 27, after “habitation” insert “of dwellings in England”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Amendment 14, in clause 1, page 4, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) In section 302 of the Housing Act 1985 (management and repair of houses acquired under section 300 or retained under section 301), in paragraph (c)—

(a) for ‘section 8’ substitute ‘sections 8 and 9A’, and

(b) for ‘does’ substitute ‘do’.”—

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 1 and 2.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

We have had a brief discussion of the amendments in the context of clause 1, so I do not wish to detain the Committee long. Clause 1 is the substance of this short Bill. We had a good debate on Second Reading in which virtually everyone on the Committee today participated.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne for his kind words. The Bill has caught the moment in terms of housing standards. Although there has been an improvement in the quality of the housing stock over decades, millions of people still remain in unfit housing, including many children. They are often the families and individuals who have the least choice in their housing. They are people with disabilities and long-term health problems, and people on very low incomes. Although a local authority has an important role to play in enforcing behaviour, it is essential that those people have a direct means of redress against the worst landlords.

As my right hon. Friend said, this is just one of many different measures that we would like to see brought forward; the Government have brought some forward and there are other measures we would like to see that would strengthen the role of tenants. We are conducting our business at the same time as the Grenfell inquiry into the worst residential fire in modern British history is going on, and we are reminded of the critical importance of listening to tenants’ concerns. The Bill is one of the ways in which we can reflect those concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2