Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Nicholas Nicol

I understand that you are conducting an enquiry into the private rented sector. I am a barrister specialising in housing law and a Chairman of the Rent Assessment Panel (which deals with fair rents, enforcement of housing conditions standards, service charges and leasehold enfranchisement).

The private rented sector has been subject to a number of government reviews or studies in recent years. Tenants and landlords, both existing and potential, would hugely benefit from the following three steps:–

1.Implementation of the Law Commission’s report on the rented sector, radically simplifying security of tenure and strengthening legal rights and obligations. Housing law is one of the most complex areas of the law. In particular, there is a multiplicity of various kinds of security of tenure. This makes things unnecessarily complicated for both landlords and tenants.

2.Implementation of the Law Commission’s report on landlord’s obligations relating to housing conditions. It is possible for a property to be uninhabitable but for the landlord to bear no responsibility to the tenant for remedying it. This is ridiculous. Such problems as the tenant cannot force the landlord to address themselves are covered by a local authority powers over housing conditions but, as mentioned below, local authorities do not have the resources to enforce them. Giving tenants the right to a decent home effectively privatises the enforcement of proper housing conditions.

3.Enforcement by local authorities of their existing powers under the Housing Act 2004. The Act has given local authorities the most comprehensive and flexible tool in the world for measuring and enforcing proper housing conditions, namely the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. However, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that they are not using it, probably due to limitations of resources. Giving this issue a higher priority could radically improve the lot of many tenants.

The United Kingdom is a signatory to a number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, which include a right to housing. This is not a right to be housed but a right to security of tenure, to facilities essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition, to affordability, to habitability, to accessibility, to suitable location and to cultural adequacy (UN ICESCR General Comment No. 4). When enquiring into the private rented sector, the right to housing should be borne in mind.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013