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New decency standard for all rental properties is overdue

Patrick Mooney, News Editor

The single biggest contributor to improvements in the standard of social rented housing over the past quarter century was undoubtedly the introduction of the decent housing standard. It lead to millions of rundown properties being upgraded and in doing so has improved the lives of countless people. But surely the time has come to update it and to extend its remit to the private rented sector as well, so that many more

residents can enjoy modern living conditions, with amenities that improve our lives rather than being injurious to our health. Billions of pounds were spent on upgrading council and housing association owned homes to reach the decent homes

standard, but it should never be forgotten that it was a minimum standard with social housing landlords encouraged to go beyond it. This lead to a plethora of DHS Plus standards being devised by different landlords, often in conjunction with their tenants. But none of these were applied to the private rented sector. Instead we saw the rather snappily titled Housing Health and Safety Rating System developed and implemented for private

rentals. Usually shortened to HHSRS, this replaced the old fitness standard and it has been used by Environmental Health Officers to rate property risks to the health and safety of occupants for the last 11 or 12 years. There is a growing chorus of voices calling for the HHSRS and related guidance to be updated.

TIME FOR ACTION So much has happened since the DHS and HHSRS were introduced that it’s fair to say the world has changed out of all recognition and wholescale revolution rather than piecemeal tinkering is now required. The numbers living in rented housing has expanded enormously, it now accounts for almost 40 per cent of our housing, the prospect of owning your own home is disappearing into the distance for many, while the Grenfell Tower fire has refocussed our attention onto the safety of our homes like never before. Karen Buck’s private member’s bill to improve conditions in the private rental sector is making its way through Parliament

and we await Dame Judith Hackitt’s final report on building regulations and fire safety. Meanwhile registers of rogue landlords are beginning to appear alongside enhanced licensing schemes up and down the country. On their own, each of these measures will have a positive impact. But isn’t this all just adding to a postcode lottery and

growing confusion over differing standards and what rules apply to which properties? What we really need is something that joins it all up – a simple but comprehensive, easy to understand set of standards, which provides modern, good quality accommodation in return for a fair and affordable rent. This could also cover aspects on the management of homes, as well as the condition and attractiveness of the immediate

environment. Afterall we don’t live in bubbles, divorced from the reality of what lies beyond our front door. The area in which we live often has as much impact on us as what we surround ourselves with inside our homes. This also chimes with social tenants saying they dislike being stigmatised by where they live.

ENFORCEABLE STANDARDS The Housing Secretary is consulting on his plans for establishing a single ombudsman service to provide a common redress system for resolving customer complaints across all types of housing. His arguments for doing this would appear to apply equally well to creating a new cross tenure standard for all rented housing, private and social. We have been promised a green paper on the future role and purpose of social housing, but how much more useful it

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Engineering Patrick Mooney 4 | HMM March 2018 |

student safety Heriberto Cuanalo from Collegiate AC gives his top tips – See inside

would be to have an enforceable standard, with all landlords (private and social) required to meet the standards if they wish to let out properties. This would need to be backed up with rules to prevent properties being left empty for long periods. It should also be possible to extend its remit to include any new fire safety standards recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt. For the avoidance of doubt, these should be prescriptive or mandatory rather than just desirable. Ideally private landlords should not feel this is a negative development or something which punishes them, so there may

be a need for incentives to encourage compliance with higher letting standards, possibly in the form of tax breaks, grants or other rewards. It is clear the current housing market is broken. The Government is spending billions on trying to reignite the building of

houses for sale, but it also needs to ensure rented housing is an attractive and viable alternative, with tenants safe in the knowledge that modern standards will be provided and their tenancy is not at risk of being ended at short notice. Now that really would be a significant legacy for the Housing Secretary to leave and millions of tenants would be forever grateful.



Confusion over tower block safety costs

PSR regulatory changes

HMO licensing moves

Big hitters depart long term jobs

Rough sleeping hits record high

The March issue of Housing Management & Maintenance features Marina Real student accommodation in Valeincia © Collegiate AC

Collegiate AC CEO, Heriberto Cuanalo, discusses student tenant safety on page 48

On the cover...

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