News that survivors are to be offered re-housing in Kensington Row is most welcome, but we’re all still feeling shock and grief after events on Lancaster West Estate. The scale of the Grenfell Tower fire last week was quite unprecedented. This terrible tragedy has caused many renters to think about safety in their own homes. Today, then, we’re offering some tips on renters’ right to safety in our homes.
It’s important to remember that, until 15 June, house fires have been on a long-term downward trend, decreasing 52% between 2005 and 2015, although numbers rose again in 2016. Most house fires do not give rise to any fatality, though. Still, whenever you move to a new address, it’s wise to work out an evacuation route from your bedroom, in the unlikely event of fire breaking out in the night.
To mitigate the risk, your landlord is legally obliged to fit at least one smoke alarm on each floor of your home. It’s your responsibility, as the tenant, to test smoke alarms regularly and to report any failure to the landlord. Apparently, it’s a good idea to vacuum clean the casing of smoke alarms from time-to-time, to keep them in good working order.
Fire isn’t the only potential hazard in your home, of course. Earlier in the year, Renters’ Rights London received word from a couple – let’s call them Alex and Jude – whose landlord was shockingly cavalier about a likely carbon monoxide leak in their flat.
By law, landlords are only required to install a carbon monoxide (CO) detector where there’s an appliance that burns coal or wood. There is no legal requirement to install a CO detector for gas appliances but it is highly recommended by the Health & Safety Executive and widely-considered best practice. If there’s a gas fire or gas boiler but no CO detector in your home, you could ask your landlord or agent for a carbon monoxide alarm. A battery-powered CO detector is simple to install and quite inexpensive.
Alex and Jude were reassured to see a carbon monoxide detector when they viewed the flat in Forest Gate and signed a six month tenancy agreement the next day. At the same time, Jude asked the letting agent about Gas Safety Certification. The agent assured the couple that he had seen the Gas Safety Certificate, but Alex and Jude didn’t ask him for a copy.
You’re entitled to keep a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate, so always ask for one, and check the date on it. A Gas Safety Certificate is valid for twelve months from the date of issue, shown on it. The Certificate also includes the address of the property and a list of all the appliances that were checked. Your landlord (or the landlord’s agent) must arrange a safety check on each gas-fuelled appliance every year. Only qualified gas engineers can carry out gas checks and issue certification.
Sometime in the last month of their tenancy (which they had decided not to renew), the carbon monoxide alarm in the flat began to sound, at intervals. It wasn’t particularly noisy – just a low-pitched ‘beep’ every so often. Alex contacted the agent, who said the alarm had probably malfunctioned. The agent promised to investigate but when he visited, he simply removed the carbon monoxide alarm, and left with it.
Alex began waking up with a headache most days but thought various stressful life events and an unusually heavy workload were the cause. Both were happy to leave it all behind and move on. But having woken up every day feeling fine in the new flat, Alex began to think that those headaches could have been a symptom of carbon monoxide and called Renters’ Rights London, worried that the landlord had re-let the flat without a carbon monoxide alarm or gas safety check.
While Alex and Jude were still tenants of the flat, they could have called Gas Emergency Service
0800 111 999, at any time, day or night, to test for carbon monoxide, or if they suspected a gas leak. No longer resident at the same address, it was not so easy. However, as their previous address was in the London Borough of Newham, where all landlords are required to hold a licence, Alex agreed to speak to the Environmental Health department at the council about these concerns.
As soon as you have any concern about the safety of your home, you should contact your landlord, in writing. The landlord should be willing to remedy the problem quickly. If that doesn’t happen, details of how to contact your local environmental health department will be shown on the local council website. Environmental health officers are responsible for ensuring that your rented home is safe and fit to live in. They should arrange to visit and assess any hazard. The most common hazards affecting safety are
- faulty or broken gas boiler
- fire risks
- damaged or broken stairs towards the top of the staircase
- Loose or missing banisters or handrails on staircases
Environmental health will also advise on hazards to health, such as
- damp and mould growth
- leaking roof
- excessive cold
This list is by no means comprehensive. If something is wrong in your home, seems dangerous or might be damaging your health or the health of someone else in the family, your environmental health team can help.
If you contact the environmental health team and they don’t respond, please get in touch with
Renters’ Rights London. We’ll do all we can to get them to act.
Letting Agents’ Fee Ban
Thank you very much indeed to every one who took the time to contribute to Renters’ Rights London response to the last government’s consultation on ending renters’ liability to pay landlord’s agents’ fees. Thanks, too, to all who submitted personal response to that consultation. We’re nearly there, at long last.
The Queen’s Speech (21 June) included confirmation of the ban on these unfair fees. Creating new legislation to prevent landlords’ agents from charging fees to renters means that the ban is not likely to come into effect until next year, though. It would have been much quicker to bring about change through tabling amendments to existing legislation, of course.
Now, we hope that the much-anticipated Tenants’ Fees Bill will
- cap the sum that can be charged as a deposit to no more the value of one rental period and no more than the equivalent of one months rent.
- prohibit charging any letting fees as a condition of their tenancy
- limit holding deposits to a sum no greater than the value of two days rent
Apparently, the Bill also includes provision for tenants to be able to recover unlawfully charged fees, although whether this will be applied retrospectively is questionable. If you have to move this Summer, then, nothing has changed yet but it’s a good time to try negotiating with letting agents on fees; charging fees may still be legal today but charging fees is already known to be unacceptable today.
Still, we regret deeply that the other provisions of the Renters’ Rights Bill, which passed smoothly through all but the final stage in the last Parliament, seem to have been lost for now. As well as banning unfair agents’ fees, the Renters’ Rights Bill included provision for mandatory electrical safety checks. Now, the life-saving importance of electrical safety checks is obvious to all.
Bad Housing Awards
As you may remember, everyone who rents their home via a housing association was invited to submit nominations for these awards. Although the Bad Housing Awards are good-humoured, the message is a very serious one.
We have just seen how the systemic failures of one London social landlord has had fatal consequences. Commentators all over the world have since expressed horror at the state of public housing in the capital of the worlds sixth wealthiest country. Are housing associations meeting their responsibility as landlords? Some, yes BUT
Most Rotten Repairs award
Winner: Genesis Housing Association Limited
Described as making tenants’ lives hell for many years and their track record is only getting worse. They have failed to respond in a timely way to repairs and maintenance issues. When they receive complaints, they blame the tenants and residents.
Senseless Social Cleansing and Dodgy Development award
Clarion Housing Group
For examples too numerous to mention but Orchard Village in Havering, built with £31m of public money, is one of the worst. This so-called “flagship” estate in the London borough of Havering is described as a “living hell” by residents. The hazards they have had to endure include mould and damp, broken heating systems, inadequate fire-proofing and missing insulation. They have also been put at risk from high levels of toxic gas including methane and hydrogen sulphide. The association has now been forced to buy back the properties from the residents. As Affinity and Circle made surpluses of £145 million and almost £86 million respectively, they don’t seem to care what the residents suffer.
Customer Disservice award
Notting Hill Housing Trust
For leaving tenants to freeze over the winter rather than fixing their heating. The problem affects not just tenants but also, those who have bought their homes from the Trust. Their new property development, at Carillon Court, soon became uninhabitable. Still, Kate Davis, the CEO, received a salary of £220k and the association made a surplus of £125 million last year.
Blundering Board and Management award
For dismantling the Community Based Housing Association in east London and transferring all the assets to the parent Peabody. This destroyed an association with excellent tenant satisfaction across a whole range of aspects that far outstripped Peabody’s satisfaction rates. They dismantled the model that worked best and imposed the one that was weakest. Their CEO took home £230k in 2016 and the organisation made a surplus of £116 million, though.
Punitive Performance Management award
Catalyst Housing Limited
Could also have easily been a winner in the Dodgy Development category. Its Caulfield Park development in South Acton, was completed in 2011 and received £19.5m in grants from the Greater London Authority. For five years now, residents have had cause to complain about repeatedly broken lifts, infestation by rats and mice, and faulty plumbing. The performance management of the CEO wasn’t quite so punitive – he took home £200k in 2016. The association made a surplus of nearly £27 million.
Overall Lousy Landlord award
Winner: Hyde Housing Association
Received more than 220 nominations! Mostly, for shirking its social responsibility, claiming it cannot afford to run community centres despite revenue of £351m in 2016, a surplus of £95m, and CEO pay of £220k in 2016. Like many of the other HAs who received awards, Hyde Housing Association was oft-nominated in several categories, including being bullying bosses, with senior managers accused of having created a culture of fear at the association.
Others who received awards include
Clarion Housing Group Limited for Overall Bullying Bosses
Family Mosaic Housing for Soaring Service Charges
One Housing Group Limited for Rocketing Rents
Sanctuary Housing Association for Poverty Pay