Mould, service charges, leaseholder rights: Your housing questions answered

In the latest edition of Ask ITV News, Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt talks through housing, tenants and rights as a renter

Whether you're a private renter, council tenant, housing association resident, or homeowner - the rules of the housing world can be complicated to navigate.

In this week's Ask ITV News, we answer your questions on everything from your rights as a renter when you find mould, to evacuation plans for residents with disabilities.

Question 1: Rob, New Forest

"As a tenant and carer for someone with disabilities, I was pleased to hear the government promise to implement all the Grenfell Inquiry recommendations. What's the current status of the promise to introduce a legal requirement for Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for people with mobility issues?"

Daniel Hewitt: It's worth noting that there were 37 disabled residents living in the Grenfell Tower on the night of the fire.

40% of them died that night.

There had been no evacuation plans in place for those residents. The Grenfell Inquiry recommended making plans mandatory - something called Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans or PEEPs - to reduce the risk of disabled residents being stuck in their flats waiting for the fire service.

But in May the government rejected that recommendation, saying that it would be too expensive and not practical to implement. They have instead suggested their own alternative - the Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing - which doesn’t go as far as PEEPs and has been widely criticized by campaigners.

To answer Rob’s question - not every building is the same, but the government is now consulting on its own plan.

Question 2: Truus, Newham

"What protection is there for housing association tenants in relation to their service charges, as it doesn't seem to be covered in the existing government rent protections?"

Daniel Hewitt: Lots of social housing tenants have had their service charge increased recently - some as much as 60% overnight. I know some tenants who have stopped paying their service charge, because they're appalled at how high it is.

The answer is quite complicated. The short answer is you can appeal to an independent tribunal if you think your service charge is too high, and they will decide whether or not they believe the increase is reasonable or not.

You do run the risk, if you stop paying your service charge, of the tribunal finding against you, and that means you do run the risk of building up arrears - so it is a bigger risk not paying it.

Question 3: Deepa, Leicester

"With the extreme heat conditions we're seeing and prolonged summers, are our landlords obliged to retrofit our apartments with air conditioning? And going forwards, will this be included as a standard requirement in new build homes and apartments?"

Daniel Hewitt: Currently, less than 5% of houses in the UK have air conditioning. But in terms of rented, council, and social housing - the short answer to Deepa's question is no: landlords aren't obliged to retrofit housing with air conditioning.

The government has of course set a target of reaching net zero by 2050 - a big part of that challenge is by retrofitting buildings to make sure they are energy efficient. This would cost the social housing sector alone £100 billion to do that. There isn't a comprehensive plan to do it, and the fact is landlords aren't going to take that cost on themselves.

Question 4: James, South London

"In July this year, UK Finance released a statement with the backing of major lenders that they would change their policies for lending on flats that require remediation work for cladding or other defects, and terms such as "certificate of leaseholders" or "certificate of landlord" were mentioned as being required so we could get mortgages again. But none of the lenders seem to have updated their guidance to follow that. So, what's going on?"

Daniel Hewitt: The context here of course is during the last few years since the Grenfell Tower fire, leaseholders have been unable to sell their properties, because banks simply won't lend mortgages on buildings with cladding on them. There was a breakthrough recently when the government effectively told builders they've got to pay for this safety work to be done. They've agreed in principle to do that. Six major banks have now said they will start lending if the builders agree to take the cladding off. The key date here is August 10th, that is the deadline the government has given builders to say we will take it off. I think then you'll start to see banks lending again.

Question 5: Molly, Oxfordshire

"I'm a private renter and have mould in my flat. Is this the landlord's responsibility? What are my rights?"

Daniel Hewitt: If you reported mould and damp to your landlord and they're not doing anything about it in private renting, you can report it to your local authority and they can inspect the property.

If they then think the mould is the landlord's responsibility, they can than make the landlord fix it. The caveat here is that some councils are good at this, some are useless, because they're had their funding cut and they're not really able to inspect your properties.

You can take your landlord to court, but that's very expensive. The truth is, if your landlord refuses to do it, you're not in a particularly great position.

Question 6: Rory, Hackney

"How worried should tenants be about cyber attacks on councils, that stop us from accessing council services?"

Daniel Hewitt: This is a really prevalent question as recently there have been lots of cyber attacks on councils. Recently, Clarion - the largest housing association in Europe - suffered an enormous cyber attack.

Cyber attacks are rare, but they are increasing. So far it hasn't looked like people's personal data has been breached. The big problem with cyber attacks is it's very hard to contact councils and housing associations if their systems are down. This stops the landlord from carrying out repairs - and can also prevent tenants from accessing council and social housing services.

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