The Decent Homes Standard: The big questions that still need answers
The consultation around the Decent Homes Standard sought clarification on some key questions, as Sean Hooker from the Property Redress Scheme shares.
Applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector is just one proposal included in the Renters' Reform Bill which is currently expected to be introduced this parliamentary session. A consultation on the standard has now closed, and Sean Hooker, Head of Redress at the Property Redress Scheme, shares some insights around the questions left to be answered before it can be implemented.
For the full conversation:
Will the standards be realistic for landlords to achieve?
When it comes to applying new standards to the private rented sector, Sean says that the government needs to clarify how it will make those standards realistic for landlords to comply with.
"You've got to make this realistic and achievable for people to implement," he says. "If standards rise, we know that there will be expenditures, and we know there will be commitments that need to be made."
So, what's the answer? "I'd be encouraging the government to actually make the changes achievable and realistic - not just by waving a big stick but to say, what help can we actually give?"
Who will be responsible for meeting the standards?
Agents are currently held accountable under a redress scheme but - before the new private renters' ombudsman comes into play - landlords are not.
"The government needs to clear up any confusion of who is actually responsible for meeting the new standards," says Sean. "The law of agency does say that if you are acting on behalf of the landlord, you are effectively the landlord."
However, we have a big issue with things like repair obligations where the agent can only go so far. [...] There are things that the landlord specifically is going to be liable under the law to deliver - repairs could be one of them. That relationship needs to be clarified in my view even further than it has."
Will failure to meet the standards be a civil or criminal offence?
Once the standards are in place, the government still needs to define how severe the penalties will be, based on whether non-compliance will be a civil or criminal offence. "If you don't have criminal sanctions, this legislation will not have the teeth that it needs to have - although some sanctions could be quite extreme. They're considering a banning order, for example," says Sean.
However, Sean recognises that the penalties should be balanced and take into account the different landlord demographics. "You don't want to build a regime of fear that an ordinary landlord, due to an omission or a mistake, fears that they're going to have a criminal record, their properties taken away from them, their livelihoods taken from underneath them. It has to be proportional."
How will "reasonable" be defined under the new standard?
The consultation into applying the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector uses the term "reasonable" frequently to describe the state of repair, facilities, or services.
"There is a debate about how you should measure 'reasonable' facilities - whether condition or age," says Sean.
"'Reasonable' is about weighing up the evidence and saying that, in the context of everything, does that seem to be fair? I deal with dispute resolution and we get situations which aren't black and white. That's where guidance, and education is going to have to come in. What's reasonable for one person may not be reasonable for another."
How will the property portal support this?
The property portal will be a "single front door' which will tie together both redress and records of compliance with the standards, in one place. "We propose that landlords use the Portal to self-declare whether the property is decent," explains the Decent Homes Standard consultation document.
"The portal is going to be a way to record the condition of a property, accessible to both the landlord, to the authorities, and to the tenant, and will show what the level of compliance is," says Sean.
"Some of that will be done by feeding in data from external bodies. Gas safety, for example, or electrical safety. Others will have to be a self assessment by the landlord. But it's going to create transparency and accountability that will make what the landlord needs to do to comply clearer."
"Am I being over trusting on whether this portal can be delivered and the technology is there?" Sean asks. "I'm not a tech person, but I am an optimist."
Visit gov.uk for more information about the Decent Homes Standard consultation.