Seven and a half years on, the Law Commission has now completed its work on the reform of housing law with the publication of its final report, Housing: Encouraging Responsible Letting. The Consultation Paper, on which this report is based, voted in favour of a scheme of enforced self-regulation, a scheme with some bite. That has been dropped in this report which now makes various tinkering suggestions such as a national private landlord accreditation scheme and a single code of good housing management practice. The one solid proposal with which everyone can agree (presumably) is the need for a proper regulatory scheme for letting agents. Their major proposal is for the appointment of a housing standards monitor, which sounds a bit school-like. This monitor would have no power beyond the promotion of standards in the sector, to trial various schemes such as a “home condition certificate” (like an mot for private rented property) and development of ADR. It doesn’t have power to do anything about bad standards.
This package of proposals is what the Commission terms “smart regulation” and is designed to include private landlords within that framework (eg through a “stakeholder board”). It all sounds so wonderfully modern, so third way New Labourish, so ultimately ineffective. Whenever policy-makers, including the Law Commission, talk of the private rented sector, there is a mantra that they have to acknowledge that there are many good landlords. That’s fine of course, although we may have a different view on that, but that doesn’t mean that you devise your scheme at the highest denominator. Equally, nobody ever says what a “good landlord” is – do these landlords have to be good all the time or just some of it? I like to think I’m a good cyclist but have been known to lose it when cut up by an arrogant driver. Is a good landlord somebody who refuses to let a property to somebody on housing benefit or gives a tenant notice when the tenant goes on benefits? I could go on.
So what now? Well, the truth is that, despite many trees being cut down to cater for the Law Commission’s output and the fact that their terms of reference came from the government itself, the government appears to have forgotten about the Law Commission’s work (or, at best, sidelined it). We can all take views about their work, but the fact is that their proposals amount to the only rigorous, sustained treatment and reform of housing law that (I guess) we all feel is necessary. But, nothing has been done and nothing is likely to be done either. Take this responsible letting report – the government must have known (or can be taken to have known) that the Law Commission were doing this work, but they (pre-Flint) commissioned some academics at York to do the same job. The Law Commission had to get their report out now so that it pre-dated that review.
Rather than “so what now”, the question for the Law Commission after seven and a half years is “so what”? And that must be pretty depressing.