by Jill Morgan. London: Routledge-Cavendish, 2007. 512pp. Paper. £28.95/$56.95. ISBN: 9781845680145.
Reviewed by Caroline Hunter, School of Law, University of Manchester. E-mail: caroline.hunter [at] manchester.ac.uk.
Housing law is a difficult subject to pin down. In the preface to the first edition of the leading practitioner text on the subject (Arden and Partington 1983), the authors state that they have “aimed to bring into a single volume as comprehensive a treatment as possible of the law that is likely to affect all classes of occupiers of residential accommodation.” The latest edition of that text now runs to over 1200 pages. But significantly, the text also deals with those who are not occupiers – the homeless. It is not enough to deal with those who have residential accommodation – we have to consider those without and how they access it, and those who wish to swap between different classes of occupation.
Another problem with writing housing law texts is that it is a subject which is intimately bound up with policy. It is an area (at least in the UK) which the government has for a century and a half sought to regulate in various ways – by empowering local government to intervene, by restricting contractual rights, or simply by creating criminal offences (e.g. in relation to illegal evictions). It not only a site of regulation, it is also used by governments to promote broader policy objectives. The most obvious of these has been the promotion of home ownership, but also in the UK in recent years it has been increasingly a site of policies of crime and social control (see e.g. Flint 2006)
How then does Jill Morgan’s new book seek to address these issues? The introductory chapter sketches out some useful approaches to considering how housing law and policy interact, particularly picking up on the ideologies identified by McAuslan (1980) in his work on planning law and also on notions of the home. The problem is that this conceptual approach is not carried through in the remainder of the book, which is structured along traditional lines – breaking housing down into its traditional UK sectors (private renting, council housing, housing association housing and owner-occupation). While McAuslan’s second ideology of “orthodox public administration” may today have been transplanted by ideas around the regulatory state, this book does not follow through with any analysis of how far the recent developments in housing law conform to or challenge these larger ideas of the development of the neo-liberal state in the early twenty-first century. For a more theoretical understanding of the development of housing law readers will have to look elsewhere, for example to Stewart (1996) and Cowan and McDermont (2006).
I also found the structure which starts with an overview of the four housing tenures (plus homelessness), moves on [*752] to some universal issues (entitled “General Concerns) – the regulation of rents, repairs, succession and homelessness – before returning to the detail of the regulation of the private rented sector, and council and housing association sectors, both confusing and at times leading to repetition. The difficulty with providing an overview sketching the policy history in relation to the particular areas and then returning later to the detailed legal provisions is that it divorces any discussion as to how the two interrelate. Even within the chapters, the role of policy in shaping law and role of law in (mis)shaping policy are rarely debated. Thus the chapter on repairs touches on the decent homes standard (although what it comprises is not explained, and the reader who is not familiar with UK housing policy may be puzzled by the term) introduced by the current Labour government as a non-legal standard up to which all social housing landlords were required to bring their homes. Its interrelation with the legal repairing covenant is briefly touched on (p.123), but the discussion is very limited and does not begin to explore why a regulatory mode of governance which does not bring with it any individual rights has been far more successful in updating homes than 45 years of a statutorily implied repairing covenant.
The problem of what “housing law” consists, is illustrated by the difficulty many housing law text books find in knowing how to treat owner-occupation. In the UK it is the most significant form of tenure (with nearly 70% of households in owner-occupation) – yet there is less “law” in the sense of statute and case law relating to it. This book struggles similarly. Thus although the overview section includes a chapter on owner-occupation, it does not reappear anywhere else in the volume – neither under the general concerns, nor (obviously) in the sections dealing with the private rented and social housing sectors. Yet why not deal with it in relation to succession or indeed alongside the control of rents and the availability of housing benefit contrasting the (admittedly far more limited) control of mortgage rates and availability of income-support to meet mortgage costs. It is almost as if owner-occupation was only a ghost at the feast of housing law, making a brief appearance but unable to sustain its presence.
This leads to the most significant omission from this book. Save very briefly in relation to remedies for disrepair, it does not consider at all the position of long-leaseholders of flats. This is a sector that has grown phenomenally over the last 15 years or so, as we have seen the return to city living with the conversion of old commercial premises and the building of new flats in so many of our towns and cities. The law has struggled to regulate the ownership of flats for the last 20 years, and there has been a succession of legislation to give further rights to flat owners.
The later chapters which set out the principal legal provisions do so clearly and in a way which will make the book useful to students of housing law. I sometimes, however, found the particular mix of what was covered in detail, and what was not, hard to fathom. So we have 11 pages on the succession rights to private rented tenancies (which must in practice only occur once in a [*753] blue moon), while there are only 7 pages on all the new provisions of the Housing Act 2004 relating to the housing health and safety rating system and houses in multiple occupation.
Despite these criticisms, this is likely to be a popular book with students of housing law, whether undertaking social policy/housing degrees or law degrees. It provides a basic account of how housing policy has led to the current legal position and readable account of the current law.
Arden, Andrew, and Martin Partington. 1983. HOUSING LAW. London: Sweet & Maxwell.
Cowan, David, and Morag McDermont. 2006. REGULATING SOCIAL HOUSING: GOVERNING DECLINE. London: Routledge-Cavendish.
Flint, John. 2006. HOUSING, URBAN GOVERNANCE AND ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR. Bristol: Policy Press.
McAuslan, Patrick. 1980. THE IDEOLOGIES OF PLANNING LAW. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Stewart, William J. 1996. RETHINKING HOUSING LAW. London: Sweet & Maxwell.
© Copyright 2008 by the author, Caroline Hunter.