According to the 2017 National Audit Office review of housing in England found the number of non-decent homes in England declined by 1.1 million between 2001 and 2013. The report states that, between 2006 and 2014, the proportion of non-decent homes fell from over a third to a fifth. It also noted that in 2014, the private rented sector had the highest proportion of non-decent homes (29%), while the social rented sector had the lowest (14%).
However, despite the improving trend lines, a large number of social homes remain at a non-decent standard. Housing experts believe the law has seen a significant rise in cases brought against both social and private landlords. According to James Tickell, partner at consultancy Campbell Tickell, the biggest change from the law has been an uptick in legal firms seeking out tenants to bring claims against landlords.
He says: “The issue is that you would expect to see arise most [due to the new Act] is the increase in legal action against landlords and housing associations.
“Councils have had rights to investigate landlords already, this is nothing new, but then again the fact that this is better known by tenants alone could see more claims.
“The big thing is the legal implications, with the ambulance chasing legal firms who could pick up on this, that could cause a lot of problems for housing associations due to costs of settling alone.”
The Legal Action Group (LAG) notes that the Act should allow tenants access to legal aid to aid them with claims.
For social landlords, all the risks listed by the HHSRS are a cause for concern, however, some such as excess heat, excess cold, and damp and mould are expected in many cases to be linked to the standard of the properties under their care.
The new bill’s focus on unsafe temperatures and mould will be a cause for alarm for the majority of UK social housing providers. Many British properties have a problem with condensation, damp and mould. With the increased scope of this legislation – housing associations are now facing a problem of huge proportions. Most will need to face this head-on and the most likely place to start is investing heavily in compliance technology and repairs or face even greater legal budgets.
When it comes to damp and mould in particular a landlord may need to evidence the problem is due to deliberate action by the tenant – such as not heating their home – rather than a defect in the home to prove a case. However, as LAG explains, a tenant may be able to prove a case using fairly straightforward evidence. The concern is that in many cases, straight forward photographs and a report from their doctor will be enough. Especially if the resident is experiencing respiratory problems.
Many Housing Associations have been using this as an opportunity to start looking to upgrade their stock but for providers which have inherited unfit or poorly maintained stock due to past mergers, they may not be fully aware of how many or which homes are of a not-decent standard.
In this respect, one-off inspections are not enough to help any HA understand any real long-term issues with their properties.
According to Thomas Kearney, Assistant Director of Asset at Housing Association Peabody, inspections and checks provide little overall insight a given property’s performance: “When you walk into that property you only get a snapshot [of a problem]. You don’t always know if a property has been under-heated or under-ventilated.”
Justin Bates, a barrister at Landmark Chambers, who also helped draft the new Act, believes the law will ultimately lead to Housing Providers taking a much more proactive approach to repairs.
“As to what it means for Housing Associations. The reality is that if they have a decent stock condition report they know what the weaknesses in their stock are, they know which ones are forever really cold and they know which ones forever very mouldy as a result.