SHODDY Victorian-era housing laws contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, according to a report published today by housing charity Shelter.
Over 85 per cent of housing experts surveyed in the report deemed the “incoherent and obscure” laws not fit for purpose. And Shelter warned that legislation has not put tenants’ safety first or given them meaningful rights.
The Closing the Gaps: Health and Safety in Housing study is one of several reviews announced following the June 14 blaze that killed at least 80 residents and prompted a public inquiry and criminal investigation.
Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate said: “The laws which are meant to protect people in their homes are inadequate and outdated, stretching back to the Victorian times.
“They’ve failed so catastrophically that those living in social housing are no longer safe.
“And while the Grenfell inquiry is ongoing, our review shows these lax laws likely played a part in the tragedy.”
Researchers from the universities of Bristol and Kent
surveyed 940 renters, homeowners, landlords and housing lawyers online between August and September.
Around 94 per cent of those who responded felt problems with enforcement were undermining the law, with a lack of legal aid hampering tenants’ ability to challenge defects and private tenants less likely to speak up because of the threat of retaliatory evictions.
Researchers found that much housing law was divorced from practical reality, making “obscure distinctions, which have little relationship with the everyday experiences of poor conditions.”
Report co-author David Cowan said that he struggles to understand confusing housing laws even though he has been an academic for 26 years and a professor for 14 years.
He added: “It’s shocking, it’s concerning, it’s ludicrous, ridiculous and dangerous … I’ll hold my hands up and say, despite my many years of being in academia … I don’t understand them. That’s just outrageous isn’t it?”
A clear and centralised new housing Act was needed to consolidate and reform the existing piecemeal layers, he said.
This was echoed by Ms Neate, who said that tenants would remain at risk in their homes if there was no urgent reform of housing law.
They are encouraging politicians to back Labour MP Karen Buck’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill during its second reading in Parliament in early 2018.