Tenant organisations in England are celebrating new regulations which give renters new protection – protection which New Zealand renters already have, and which has recently been extended. It’s a good time to reflect on that protection and its limitations.
Private tenants have the right to live in homes that meet certain standards. If tenants’ houses are unsafe, they can report the problem to the landlord, and if that fails, the council. The council will assess the home under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) which covers a number of issues, including heating, damp and mould, ventilation, electrical safety, and presence of hazards that could lead to falls. It can then serve notice to the landlord requiring that the house is improved. Councils can undertake proactive inspections, but many don’t have the resources to. So the only way problematic homes can be addressed is by tenants reporting problems.
However, the evidence suggests that many do not. English tenant organisations have long been concerned about the practice of retaliatory evictions. This is when a landlord ends a tenancy when a tenant asks for repairs or improvements. The organisation Shelter found that one in 12 tenants did not report problems because they feared that they would be evicted, and that one in 33 tenants had been evicted or threatened with eviction for complaining about their housing. Under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, landlords can give notice (two months is standard) to tenants for any reason. Thanks to Shelter’s campaign, from October, tenants will have the right to appeal their eviction if they were given notice after they complained about their housing conditions to the landlord or council.
One of the ways Shelter made the case for such a protection was by referring to New Zealand’s superior legislation:
When compared to other countries, the fragile position of renters in the UK is stark. In many European countries such as France and Germany, renters are protected by longer fixed term tenancies. In places where shorter term tenancies are more commonplace – like Australia and New Zealand – renters who complain about poor conditions are protected from retaliatory eviction and other forms of retaliatory action such as rent increases. Even 39 of the 50 American states provide legislative protection from this practice.
I’m glad that English tenants have additional protection. But I don’t know if such protection is enough to improve the lot of that third of tenants who live in substandard homes. In my next post I explain why.