First steps to address disrepair
In recent weeks, several people have contacted the office, rightly disgruntled because landlords and their agents are so slow to respond to repair issues. Before blaming the agent, bear in mind that a managing agent must secure the property owner’s agreement before organizing any repairs. Agents can be as frustrated as renters by a landlord’s reluctance to spend money on maintaining the property in good condition.
This is one reason that you are entitled, by law, to know the property owner’s name and UK correspondence address. Where the owner is a limited company, you are entitled to know the directors’ details. If an agent seems unresponsive to your reports of disrepair, you can contact the landlord directly to request repair. Include a question at the end of your letter or email to the landlord, to make it plain that you expect a response.
If you don’t have the landlord’s name and UK correspondence address (the details are often included in your tenancy agreement), you can write to the agent, requesting that information. Failure to provide it within 21 days is an offence. The trading standards department of your local council can take action against an agent who refuses to comply with this obligation (Section 1 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985).
One question that comes up over and over again is how much of a discount from the rent you are entitled are to for a shower spraying scalding hot (or freezing cold) water, a bedroom window which won’t stay shut or a boiler that fails every last Monday of the month. The answer is none at all. There is no particular legal entitlement to a discount from the contracted amount of rent for loss of facility.
Still, it’s well worth writing to the landlord asking whether they will offer an appropriate discount for such inconvenience and loss of facility. In that letter or email, politely outline the full extent of inconvenience or discomfort that the issue is causing and mention the length of time for which it has been a problem. It’s probably better to ask the landlord what level of rent reduction they propose for your suffering and negotiate from there, if necessary, than it is to suggest a figure and seek their agreement. The latter can work well, too, though.
Renters’ Rights London was quite impressed when a Clapham renter told us that the property owner had agreed to her request to discount one months rent for the time she could not use the sitting room. In the event, repair took longer than expected and she had no access to the sitting room for two months. The renter was not happy. She felt that a discount equal to two months rent would have been fair. But as she still had full use of her bedroom, the bathroom and seating in the open-plan kitchen, it might well be hard to justify.
You are entitled to seek compensation through the court if the landlord fails to carry out repairs within ‘a reasonable time’ of you reporting them. This is one reason we always recommend reporting all issues in writing. How else can you prove when you first reported the problem?
You don’t often have to take legal action during your tenancy. Generally, you have up to 6 years from the time you reported the repair. But if you want to make a personal injury claim, because living with disrepair damaged your physical or mental health, you must make your claim within 3 years.
Voting isn’t marriage, it’s public transport…
…You aren’t waiting for “the one” who’s absolutely perfect; you’re getting the bus, and if there isn’t one to your destination, you don’t not travel, you take the one going nearest.
Debbie Moon, the tv scriptwriter said (on Twitter) that it’s the best voting advice she ever received. I’m passing it on because some 1,639,000 Londoners did not exercise their voting rights in 2017. If you are entitled to vote in this General Election, please do cast your vote on Thursday?
All the main parties have made manifesto pledges for renters, as part of their stated ambition to address the housing crisis. Whichever Party wins power on 12 December, we must hold them to the promises they’ve made.
To “tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with more affordable homes and stronger rights for renters”, Labour promises
- Urgent action to protect private renters through rent controls, capping rent rises at the level of inflation, giving cities powers to cap rents further
- Open-ended tenancies and an end unfair, ‘no fault’ evictions (under S21 of Housing Act 1988)
- Nationwide licensing and tougher sanctions for landlords who flout the rules
- To give councils the powers and funding to buy back homes from private landlords
- To end so-called ‘right to rent’, the discriminatory rules that require landlords to check people’s immigration status
- To raise the Local Housing Allowance in line with the 30th percentile of local rents
- To disallow landlords from excluding people on housing benefit
- New powers for councils to regulate short-term lets through companies such as Airbnb
- To fund new renters’ unions in every part of the country – to allow renters to organise and defend their rights
Other measures to tackle the housing crisis proposed by the Labour manifesto include
- Scrapping ‘the bedroom tax’, which prevents people from claiming LHA/housing benefit for the cost of the whole dwelling, if their home has more bedrooms than the minimum legally required for the household size.
- Ending conversion of office blocks into residential units that sidestep planning permission through ‘permitted development’
- Using public land to build this housing, rather than selling it off to the highest bidder
- To keep the Land Registry in public hands, and make ownership of land more transparent
- Making brownfield sites the priority for development and protect the green belt
- Tackling the climate crisis and cut energy bills by introducing a tough, new zero-carbon homes minimum standards, also upgrading millions of existing homes to make them more energy efficient.
- Building at an annual rate of at least 150,000 social homes, with most 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent, by the end of the next Parliament
- Establishment of a new duty on councils to plan and build these homes in their area, with national government funding to do so
- Scrapping the Conservatives’ current definition of ‘affordable rent’, set as high as 80% of market rents, and to replace that with a definition linked to local income
- An additional £1 billion a year for councils’ homelessness services and
- To repeal the Vagrancy Act and amend antisocial behaviour legislation to stop the law being used against people who are street homeless
The Liberal Democrats have promised to reform the private rental sector by
- Helping young people into the rental market by establishing a new ‘Help to Rent’ scheme to provide government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under the age of 30
- Promoting longer tenancies of three years or more, with an inflation-linked annual rent increase built in
- Increasing minimum energy efficiency standards for privately rented properties and removing the cost cap on improvements
- Improving protections against ‘rogue’ landlords through mandatory licensing. Also,
- Increasing Local Housing Allowance (housing benefit) in line with average rents in an area
- Tackling child poverty by removing the two-child limit and the benefits cap and
- Abolishing ‘the bedroom tax’ and introducing positive incentives for people under-occupying council homes to downsize.
The Lib Dem manifesto promises to “prioritise government spending on the things that matter most to people’s well-being – both now and in the future” with
- Targeted support for those most at risk of poor well-being: vulnerable children, people who are homeless, victims of trafficking and exploitation
- New direct spending on house-building, to help build 300,000 homes a year by 2024, including 100,000 social homes
- An emergency programme to insulate all Britain’s homes by 2030, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty
- A requirement for all new homes to be built to a zero-carbon standard (where as much energy is generated on-site, through renewable sources, as is used), by 2021, rising to a more ambitious (‘Passivhaus’) standard by 2025.
- Devolution of decision-making powers for transport, energy, housing and skills to local councils. This promise includes handing control of ‘Right to Buy’ to local councils
- To scrap the Conservatives’ hostile environment and
- To abandon current plans to require voters to bring identification with them to vote.
Because “home ownership is one of the most fundamental Conservative values” the Conservative manifesto offers less to renters but nonetheless, promises
- to introduce one, ‘lifetime’ deposit which moves home with you
- to introduce a ‘Better Deal for Renters’, including abolishing ‘no fault’ evictions under Section of the Housing Act 1988, but also
- to strengthen the landlord’s right of possession
The Conservative manifesto says “we recognise that not everyone can afford their own home – and that those in social housing deserve the same dignity, respect and fair treatment as private renters”.
- A Social Housing White Paper will set out further measures to empower tenants and support the continued supply of social homes
- Support for communities living on council estates who want to take ownership of the land and buildings they live in. Also,
- To give the police new powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments and to make intentional trespass a criminal offence
- To retain the ‘Right to Buy’ for all council tenants and the voluntary ‘Right to Buy’ scheme agreed with housing associations
- To extended the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme from 2021 to 2023, reviewing new ways to support home ownership following its completion
- To renew the Affordable Homes Programme, in order to support the delivery of hundreds of thousands of affordable homes, in an effort to prevent people from falling into homelessness, along with fully enforcing the Homelessness Reduction Act
- To end rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament, through expansion of programmes such as the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First, and to work to bring together local services to meet the health and housing needs of people sleeping on the streets
- To implement and legislate for all the recommendations of the Hackitt Review and the first phase of the independent inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire
- To work with industry, housing associations and individuals to ensure that every home is safe and secure
- To support high rise residential residents with the removal of unsafe cladding, and to continue the process of materials testing
- To support community housing by helping people who want to build their own homes find plots of land and access the Help to Buy scheme.
- To support the creation of new kinds of homes that have low energy bills and which support environmental targets, with the expectation that all new streets will be lined with trees
- To encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible, and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population.
While this is not strictly a housing matter, Renters’ Rights London is really very concerned by the Conservative pledge
- To protect the integrity of our democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations
The Electoral Reform society has stated that “the policy of mandatory strict ID presents a significant risk to democratic access and equality.” And that “Millions of people lack the strictest forms of required documentation, such as a passport or driving licence. If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally, it could potentially result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say.”
We know that high housing costs leave people living in the private rented sector with less disposable income than others. Private renters are probably less likely to hold a current passport, therefore. Overall, only around 25% of the UK population does not hold a full driving licence but 38% of British Asians and 48% of Black British people do not hold a driving licence.
At Renters’ Rights London, we agree with the Electoral Reform Society:
“Identification requirements risk undermining the principles of fair and equal participation that have been at the heart of British democracy since the adoption of universal, equal suffrage in 1928.”
This time, voter ID is NOT required to vote in the General Election. You don’t even have to take your polling card with you on the day. If you’re eligible to vote, you can just turn up at your polling station, after 0700h and before 2200h, when polling ends. If you aren’t sure where to go to vote, find your polling station using your postcode.
Every candidate standing in your constituency would be grateful for your support on Thursday 12 December. Your vote, like every vote, really does matter.