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In an extraordinary move, the government is backing plans to let tenants take legal action over the condition of their rental properties. If landlords felt 2017 was the year of regulations and strangulation for the buy-to-let industry, 2018 is starting off on the same foot, with yet more legislation to make life difficult for the ordinary landlord. Whilst professional landlords will keep their properties in good order and comply with the legislation, it does seem as though the government is finding ways to make life increasingly difficult.

In the latest move, the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government has announced it is working with Labour MP, Karen Buck, to draft her Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability of Housing Standards) private members’ bill. This bill will make sure that all private-sector and social housing landlords maintain properties so they are fit for habitation when the tenant move in and throughout their stay. If not, the tenant can take the landlord to court for breach of contract.

However, legislation and regulations already exist to make sure properties are fit for human habitation. For instance, under the Housing Act 2004, there is a housing rating system whereby local council officers can inspect a property to see if it poses serious risks to tenants on health and safety grounds. If so, the council has the power to make sure the necessary improvements are made. They can also carry out the work themselves and bill the landlord or take legal action. Housing secretary, Sajid Javid, is supporting the bill. He acknowledged that councils already have a wide range of powers to deal with the small number of landlords whose accommodation is substandard or unsafe, but he went on to say that public safety is of paramount importance and he is determined to protect tenants in every possible way.

However, it remains to be seen whether a tenant will pay for a court case that they may lose, particularly if the local authority already has the power to take action on their behalf. Other tenants may be tempted to damage the property themselves to make it unfit, if they believe they will get compensation for it. Maybe it’s time to look at legislation from another perspective, to give greater protection for landlords against tenants who destroy properties, steal from them or fail to pay rent. That might encourage even more professionals to join the sector to provide much-needed rental homes.

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