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‘Victorian’ housing laws ‘in a mess’, post-Grenfell study finds

Outdated housing laws are old, with variable enforcement, and in “desperate need” of reform, a report commissioned by influential charity Shelter has concluded.

The report, ‘Closing the gaps: Health and safety in the home,’ comes five months after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which killed at least 80 people in London’s Kensington borough.

Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Kent reviewed current housing laws and surveyed almost 1,000 people from the housing sector, including tenants and landlords. They concluded that the legal gaps within housing law don’t address modern concerns, with some statutes dating back to the Victorian era.

Consequently, current law treats tenants as a health and safety risk rather than consumers with enforceable rights.

The biggest change that tenants wanted to see was improved communications with the landlord, with many speaking of complaints and concerns being ignored – a common criticism from Grenfell residents. This concern was particularly prevalent amongst the elderly, disabled and those living in poverty.

The report stated that, whilst the official inquiry is still ongoing, failings in the law are “likely to be a contributing factor in the Grenfell tragedy.”

It called for changes to the law to enforce housing health and safety standards, place clear responsibilities on bodies for breaches of fire and building regulations, and to hold landlords and managers to account for fire safety provisions.

Professor David Cowan, of the University of Bristol Law School, said: “This research has demonstrated that the law regarding the state and condition of a property is in a mess. It doesn’t address modern concerns and its enforcement is piecemeal.

“In our view, the law needs to be reformed to protect the health and safety of all occupiers regardless of tenure, class, or the history of housing policy. 

“Such reforms will play a part in ensuring a tragedy like Grenfell should never be allowed to happen again.”

Chief executive of Shelter, Polly Neate, added: “The laws which are meant to protect people in their homes are inadequate and outdated, stretching back to the Victorian times.

“Grenfell highlighted many wider issues we need to address as a society, and it’s crucial that people in social housing now have stronger rights and a more powerful voice. But right now, some social landlords are unaccountable meaning many families living in poor conditions with no ability to change it.

“The government urgently needs to reform housing law, and an important step is supporting the ‘Fitness For Human Habitation Bill’ early next year.”

Top image: Ik Aldama, DPA, PA Images

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