Ipswich MP, Sandy Martin, took the opportunity of a House of Commons debate on the Human Habitation Bill to speak up on behalf of tenants with poor landlords.
Speaking on the floor of the House of Commons, Sandy said:
"Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker. Just last weekend, visiting residents in Ipswich prior to my trip with my honourable friend the Member for Bassetlaw to watch Ipswich Town beat Leeds United one-nil, I called on a couple who invited me into their flat to show me the mould that had accumulated all around their bathroom, under the window in their sitting room, and even in the bedroom. This couple live in a Council flat in Ipswich, and so I was able to pass on their details to the local Councillors in the expectation that something will be done to rectify the situation.
"Of course, the Council doesn’t always get things right. I believe that Ipswich Borough Housing is an exemplar of good practice, but even good landlords get things wrong sometimes.
"That’s why it is so important that this Bill will apply to Local Authority Housing and Housing Association properties in the same way as it does to private rented accommodation. And indeed in some ways it impacts more on those public sector tenants who need its help, than it does on private sector tenants, because whereas a private sector tenant might hold out some hope that they could persuade the local council to act legally on their behalf, a council is not going to take out a legal case against itself. One would hope that accountable local authorities would take their responsibilities to their tenants seriously enough to rectify any unfitness without the need for legal recourse, but unfortunately that is not always the case. In those cases, council tenants have no recourse to the law at all. This Bill will enable council and housing association tenants to take legal action against their landlord if no action were taken to put right any unfitness, just as it will to private sector tenants.
"I know that the members opposite would not be willing to accept a Bill that unfairly favoured public sector housing over private sector housing, quite rightly so, and this Bill does not do so. I could wish that in the interests of fairness and a level playing-field the members opposite might consider a right-to-buy Bill for private sector tenants on the same terms as are currently offered to council tenants, but I think that is for another day, or possibly just a day-dream.
"But of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, while this Bill does afford a very important and necessary protection to council and housing association tenants, the vast majority of the problem exists in the private sector. In the East of England 20% of private sector rented stock is in a state that poses a serious risk to its tenants’ health, as compared with just 8% of the council and housing association stock. In my 20 years as a local councillor I was constantly being contacted by distraught residents who showed me mouldy walls, dodgy banisters, awkward and cramped entrance halls and rickety windows. I would raise these issues with council officers but in almost every case was told that there was no legal action the Council could take on these matters. This Bill will empower the tenants themselves to demand safe and healthy homes from their landlords.
"Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not believe that there will be any rash of prosecutions as a result of this Bill. I believe that it will focus the minds of those Landlords – both private and public – who do not currently pay quite enough attention to the welfare of their tenants, and encourage them to provide the level of service which 80% of Landlords are already providing.
"All good landlords should welcome this Bill. Why should the 80% who provide fit and proper housing be undercut by rogue operators or see their sector tarred with the brush of inadequate maintenance or shoddy flat conversions? I am delighted that this Bill is receiving support from across the House and I look forward to it becoming law."