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After Grenfell, the government must ensure ALL homes are ‘fit for human habitation’

Almost 12 million people, a third of which are families, now live in largely unregulated, private rented housing. Only last year Conservative MPs, many of whom are themselves landlords, rejected a bill that would require landlords to make their properties ‘fit for human habitation’. 

After decades of state privatisation and cost cutting, private renters are forced to live in unsafe and substandard homes. The safety regulations that do exist go unenforced, as cash strapped councils fail to carry out enforcement action against private landlords. Gas and electricity safety checks go ignored. Homes are left without fire alarms, sprinkler systems and fire doors, as landlords refuse to invest in making their properties safe.

Digs (Hackney Renters), Generation Rent, ACORN, the Radical Housing Network, Renters Power Project (London Renters Union), Advice4Renters and Renters’ Rights London support and campaign for the rights of private renters across London and the UK. Following the fire at Grenfell tower, they said:

“The fire at Grenfell is a horrific indictment of a broken housing system. Like the residents of Grenfell, we have been consistently calling for better rights and safety protections for renters for many years, calls which have gone largely ignored.

The Grenfell fire has exposed gross failings on the part of governments and institutions, and the urgent need for proper regulations to keep us safe and a mass programme of public house building. It also highlights the total inadequacy of the rental sector to provide people with the safe, secure housing they should be able to rely on, as a human right.

Social and private tenants lived side by side as neighbours in Grenfell Tower. The same is true of most other estates across the UK, as public housing has been sold to private landlords. It’s absolutely unacceptable that renters, both social and private, are being ignored, endangered and treated as second class citizens.

On that basis we call on the Government and local authorities to act immediately as follows:

  1. Re-house all evacuees, both council and private tenants

As dangerous cladding is found on an increasingly large number of tower blocks across the country, it may be necessarily evacuate residents to make these homes safe, as has already happened in the London Borough of Camden. Local authorities in this situation must guarantee that all renters, whether social or private, will be rehoused by the council in local, temporary homes while work is carried out to make their homes safe. Funding must be provided by central government to councils to ensure this is done properly.

  1. Ensure ALL residential buildings are fit for human habitation.

This tragedy has brought into sharp focus what happens when governments prioritise profits and savings over the safety and wellbeing of people. In the wake of the Grenfell fire, MPs should remember with shame that only last year they rejected a law which would require homes in the private rented sector to be fit for human habitation. A majority of MPs, including Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, decided that law would place too much “burden” on private landlords.

The Government must immediately pass legislation ensuring that ALL residential buildings – whether private or public – must be safe and fit for human habitation, allowing renters legal redress where a landlord fails to maintain these basic standards.

Private renters cannot feel safe in their homes when the current legislation allows landlords to rent out a home without providing evidence that it meets all basic legal, safety, and competence standards.

It’s for this reason that all privately rented homes should fall under a mandatory licensing scheme that would require the home to be safe before it was put on the market, and would help local authorities enforce against landlords who are renting out dangerous properties.

  1. Force private landlords to join local authorities in urgently carrying out full fire and other safety inspections of all their properties.

As inspections continue, councils have so far found 120 tower blocks that don’t meet basic fire regulations. And yet, while it seems as many as 600 buildings nationwide are covered in flammable cladding, the Government are leaving the private sector to decide whether to inspect or take any action on their buildings. Most landlords have so far done nothing to make sure the properties they rent out are safe.

Private renting is the sector with the highest rate of tenant complaints and substandard, non-decent housing. One-third of private rented housing fails to meet the decent homes standard. Private landlords must be made to carry out full inspections of their properties, and in doing so, remove any flammable cladding from residential buildings and other hospitality premises, public buildings and workplaces.

We know that some councils are writing to owners of privately rented blocks, asking them for assurances around the safety of their cladding. Government must announce a mandatory process to ensure all blocks are checked and confirmed as safe.

There are also concerns around cladding fitted in individual, privately rented flats and houses through the Green Deal, and other government-backed, energy efficiency schemes. Private renters need assurances now that these alterations are safe, and government should be using data from the Green Deal and providing funding to check the safety of all homes that have been altered under these schemes.

  1. An end to border controls in housing

The requirement to check the immigration status of all prospective private renters means migrant and black and minority ethnic (BME) residents in the UK are openly discriminated against. Fearing financial penalties or worse for making any mistake, landlords prefer to cherry pick who they rent to, contrary to their obligations not to discriminate. This forces migrants and BME communities into the worst housing, where they are most vulnerable to health and safety risks. ‘Right to Rent’ rules must be scrapped immediately. We also support the call for residents of Grenfell Tower to be given immediate immigration amnesty.

  1. Living in private rented housing must no longer mean housing insecurity. Protection from eviction and long-term tenancies must be the norm.

Renters need secure tenancies, so we can have control over our lives and put down roots in our communities. In regard to housing safety, security is also vital as it allows renters to advocate for their rights and make complaints about their landlord and poor conditions without fear of eviction, and in the knowledge that they can make a place their long-term home.

  1. Rent must be made affordable. Regulation must be introduced, so that and no one should spend more than a third of income on rent.

Landlords are being allowed to exploit the housing crisis, charging maximum rents in return for properties that are too often unsafe and indecent. The human need for somewhere to live, leaves renters in London and elsewhere, forced to accept poor and dangerous conditions. Controlling rents is absolutely essential if we want a private rented sector that is safe, decent and sustainable in the long term.

 

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