Several obligations are imposed on landlords (both social housing providers and private landlords) when it comes to housing disrepair by the government. By the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, landlords are required to comply with repair obligations in their tenancy agreements; by the Defective Premises Act 1972, tenants, their families, and visitors are protected from statutory nuisances (health control), as defined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
A disrepair property is one that cannot be occupied by humans. Housing health and safety rating systems can be used by tenants if a landlord fails to perform repairs. There are three legal options available to tenants in England and Wales if their property is deemed uninhabitable.
Both the contract the tenants sign with the landlord and legislation protects the tenant's rights. A tenant may sue their landlord if both the contract and the law have been violated.
If a claim for housing disrepair proceeds, the landlord or landlord's agent must have been informed of remediation that needs to be done on the property, and the repairs must not have been completed within a reasonable timeframe.
There has been an increase in no-win-no-fee legal companies representing tenants in recent years, according to some social landlords. As the tenants' representatives, these companies file claims through solicitors and negotiate compensation with landlords.
According to one report, eight social landlords hired a lobbying firm to prohibit tenants from pursuing inappropriate disrepair claims.
In a survey of over 200 residents across the country, 65% said they had not had a satisfactory experience raising complaints with their landlords. Some of the main issues tenants raised include:
Communication between landlords and residents can be an issue. In the research on landlords' racist and sexist responses to tenants, tenants claim they have made desperate efforts to get repairs done.
According to research by Shelter, black and Asian tenants are five times more likely than white tenants to encounter discrimination when seeking a safe, secure, and affordable home in the UK and are more likely to end up living in “shoddy, unsafe, and unsuitable” housing, according to journalist Patrick Butler.
It is evident from new research by scholars at Heriot-Watt University that racial inequalities exist in housing and homelessness. According to their study, 30% of black families that experience homelessness also experiences racial discrimination.
Several provisions in the UK Immigration Act 2016 concerning housing were identified in a study conducted in 2020. According to the article, the Conservative government intends to curb immigration by creating a hostile environment. Prospective tenants in England must have their immigration documents checked by their landlords. The researchers concluded that this has created a potentially discriminatory environment for all migrants, as well as British citizens who lack documentation or are racially profiled. In addition, undocumented migrants may find themselves in even more precarious housing conditions due to this law. An overview of social housing residents' rights was published in a government white paper in 2020. According to Boris Johnson's foreword, social tenants remain under-respected. There is no timeline for delivering the actions that the report proposes. Despite continuing efforts, tenants in social housing (and the private rental market) still struggle to live in a safe environment.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove will launch the government's 'Make Things Right' advertising campaign, announced on 6 March 2023, in which he will encourage social housing tenants to complain about substandard housing. Affected tenants are being told to act. In the first instance, residents should contact their landlord with their complaints, and if unhappy with the landlord's final response, they should turn to the Housing Ombudsman.
Following a severe maladministration finding from the Housing Ombudsman, the Housing Secretary has also demanded answers from Lambeth Council about its failure to handle complaints. It follows a special report a year ago following multiple failure orders in Lambeth Council's complaint handling.
As part of Awaab's Law, landlords are now given time limits to investigate and fix damp and mould, and social housing managers must meet mandatory qualifications to ensure that residents receive quality service.
Housing Ombudsman Richard Blakeway said:
“Effective complaint handling starts with landlords getting things right first time. If and when things do go wrong, landlords must fix the issue, apologise, offer appropriate compensation, and show they have learnt from those errors.”
“If that doesn’t happen then residents can take their complaint to us at the Housing Ombudsman. We’re free, independent and impartial in order to help residents and landlords find a resolution to their complaint.”
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