House of Commons Library

Housing fitness in the private rented sector

Published Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This Commons Library Briefing Paper looks at current legislation regulating property standards in the private rented sector, and at debates over whether there should be a legal minimum maintenance standard for rented homes.

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Conditions in the private rented sector

The private rented sector (PRS) houses more households in England than the social rented sector, but has the highest proportion of poor property standards of any tenure type. The 2014/15 English Housing Survey found that 29% of private rented properties would fail the Government’s decent homes standard (DHS) compared to 14% of social housing. The DHS is a non-statutory standard which is most frequently referred to in relation to the social rented sector.

There are statutory provisions governing private landlords’ repairing and maintenance obligations in addition to other requirements; for example, in relation to gas safety. Enforcement of standards in private rented housing is, in England and Wales, mainly through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), a risk-assessment based regulatory model used by local authority environmental health officers.

No minimum housing fitness standard

Since the introduction of the HHSRS in 2006, replacing the old Housing Fitness Standard, there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.

A Private Member’s Bill introduced by Karen Buck MP in 2015-16, and Labour amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16, sought, unsuccessfully, to reintroduce a ‘fitness for human habitation’ minimum standard of property maintenance. The Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis, argued that the Housing and Planning Bill’s proposals on rogue landlords were a better way to improve standards without imposing “unnecessary regulation” on landlords.

This briefing paper looks at the main debates around a minimum property standard, compared to a risk-assessment based model. These include regulatory burden on landlords and inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the HHSRS.

As housing is a devolved policy area, different approaches to regulating PRS property standards have emerged in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are also examined in further detail.

This briefing paper focuses on the debates around the regulatory regime for property health and safety standards in the private rented sector, including the HHSRS. More information on the HHSRS itself can be found in the Commons Library briefing paper, The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7328

Author: Alex Bate

Topics: Housing standards, Private rented housing

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