Grenfell Tower Tragedy & Chalcot Estate Evacuation – What next?

25 Jun 2017

Following the tragic events of 19 June 2017 at Grenfell Tower many people are rightly asking questions about the state of housing law and whether there was anything that could have been done from a legal perspective to prevent this awful tragedy.

The sad reality is that the current state of housing law means that there is little lawyers could have done to have assisted the tenants of Grenfell Tower prior to the fire. Regrettably there is no obvious means for a tenant to obtain an effective remedy from the civil courts prior to something actually going wrong in their home. There are a range of legislative options once something has actually happened. For example, if you home falls into disrepair in most tenancies the landlord will have a repairing obligation to remedy the disrepair within a reasonable period of time. However, practically there is little option for a tenant to obtain a pre-emptive remedy in the civil courts against their landlord where issues such as fire safety are identified.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire people have highlighted attempts by housing lawyers and politicians to effect change to the existing state of the law. For example, in 2015 the Labour MP Karen Buck, with assistance from housing lawyers from the Housing Lawyers Practitioners Association, introduced a private members bill calling for a legal duty for landlords to keep properties in a state fit for human habitation. A failure to comply with this duty would have given rise to a right to the tenant to enforce the duty in a civil court. However, this measure was intended to address things such as ensuring that a property is free from damp, has adequate ventilation, and has  suitable drainage and sanitary conveniences. This duty would apply in situations where there are no repair issues but there are clear concerns with the state of a tenant’s home.

This private members bill was talked about by Conservative MPs and did not become law. However, even if this measure had been adopted it is far from clear whether it would in fact have prevented the tragic fire at Grenfell Fire. However, this simply serves to highlight the need for effective change. It can only be hoped that once the investigation into the cause of the fire has been concluded that lessons will be learned and that there is the appetite for a full scale review of the current state of the law in this area.

The Chalcot Estate in Camden

The further developments in Camden late on 23 June 2017 highlights the potential scale of fire safety issues in social housing. Camden Council have taken the exceptional step of asking tenants in the Chalcots estate to temporarily vacate their homes due to fire safety concerns raised by the London Fire Brigade.

There will currently be Camden tenants worried about where they stand, having been made, at least temporarily, homeless. If formal homeless applications are made by tenants to Camden Council then pending the resolution of this fire safety issue the Council will need to arrange suitable temporary accommodation to be provided until a decision has been reached on the homeless application.

Legal Aid is available for assistance with homelessness. Osbornes will be looking into ways that we can help both those affected by the Grenfell fire as well as those Camden residents who have been displaced from their homes. If you require housing advice please feel free to contact us directly.

If you require housing advice please feel free to contact us directly. You can call us on 0207 485 8811 or fill in our online form.

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