Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, plus the revelations that thousands more tenants could be at risk in high-rise buildings, it is apparent that more needs to be done to safeguard the occupants.
Karen Buck MP said that she proposed changes to housing regulations two years ago, but they were voted down by the government. However, it is clear that changes are necessary and that all landlords need to be accountable for the safety of their buildings and tenants. Following the Grenfell fire, many other tower blocks have been checked across the UK. Some residents have been asked to leave their homes and at least 60 buildings have been deemed unsafe. This surely shows that the present laws are either not good enough or not being regulated.
The Grenfell survivors are rightly calling for accountability. The forthcoming public inquiry will establish the cause of the fire and why it was able to spread so quickly. This should not be – and is not – the case in most tower blocks. Any recommendations need to be acted upon swiftly, along with any other lessons that can be learnt, in terms of safety and housing regulations. Ms Buck points out that councils with many high-rise blocks have seen their budgets cut substantially. They need the financial support to carry out safety checks and remedial works on buildings they feel to be at risk.
Another issue which needs addressing is the residents in council tower blocks who actually own their own flat or are leasing from the owner. Regulations do not take this into account and enforcement powers do not always exist. This means requirements such as fire doors or major refurbishments relating to fire safety can be delayed. If the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order was updated, this could allow a freeholder or owner to have access to individual flats to carry out safety improvements.
On the other hand, tenants do not have effective powers to hold landlords to account. Tenants should have the right to take legal action if their accommodation is below standard or unsafe, rather than having to rely on a cash-strapped council to do this on their behalf. Social housing should be subject to the same scrutiny as private rentals, so the occupiers can feel safe in their homes and know there are legal avenues to explore if the accommodation is not up to scratch.
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