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4. The Labouring Classes Lodging-houses Acts, which include the Labouring Classes Lodging-houses Act, 1851, the Labouring Classes Dwelling-houses Act, 1866, and the Labouring Classes Dwelling-houses Act, 1867.
The Board, for convenience of reference by members of the local authorities, have caused digests of these Acts to be prepared, and copies of the digests are enclosed.
Referring first to the Acts as to the removal of nuisances, the Board direct me to state that, as the local authority are aware, it is their duty to make from time to time, either by themselves or their officers, inspection of their district with a view to ascertaining what nuisances exist calling for abatement, and to enforce the provisions of those Acts for the purpose of securing the abatement of nuisances.
The word “nuisances” includes "any premises in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious to health: any
privy, drain, or ashpit, so foul as to be a nuisance or injurious to health: any accumulation or deposit which is a nuisance or injurious to health : and any house or part of a house so overcrowded as to be dangerous or prejudicial to the health of the inmates."
If after notice a nuisance is not abated, or if after notice it is discontinued, but is, in the opinion of the authority, likely to recur on the same premises, it is their duty to institute proceedings before justices. The justices are empowered by their order to require the person on whom the order is made (1) “to provide sufficient privy accommodation, means of drainage, or ventilation, or to make safe and habitable, or to pave, cleanse, whitewash, disinfect, or purify the premises which are a nuisance or injurious to health;" or (2), “to amend or remove the privy, drain, or ashpit which is a nuisance or injurious to health, or to provide a substitute for that complained of;" or (3), "to carry away the accumulation or deposit which is a nuisance or injurious to health ;” and further, to do such other works or acts as are necessary to abate the nuisance complained of.
If the justices consider that the same or a similar nuisance is likely to recur, they may further prohibit its recurrence and direct the execution of the works necessary to prevent such recurrence; and if, in their judgment, the nuisance is such as to render the house unfit for human habitation, they may prohibit its being used for that purpose until it is rendered fit for habitation, and in that case the house may not be let or inhabited until by a further order the justices have declared that it is habitable. A person not obeying an order for abatement, if he fails to satisfy the justices that he has used all due diligence to carry out the order, is liable for every such offence to a penalty not exceeding 108. per day during the default, and a person knowingly or wilfully acting contrary to an order of prohibition is liable for every such offence to a penalty not exceeding 20s. per day during such contrary action. Further, in the case of such default the authority may enter the premises to which the order relates, and remove or abate the nuisance condemned or prohibited, and do whatever may be necessary in execution of the order, and charge the cost to the person on whom the order is made.
It is also to be observed that, in the case of a house which is certified to the authority by the medical officer of health, or two qualified medical practitioners, to be so overcrowded as to be dangerous or prejudicial to the health of the inhabitants, and the inhabitants consist of more than one family, the authority are to institute proceedings before justices, and a penalty, not exceeding £2, may be imposed on the person permitting the overcrowding. When two convictions in respect of the overcrowding of the same premises are obtained within a period of three months, whether the persons convicted are or are not the same, the justices may order the closing of the house for such time as they may deem necessary.
With regard to the Artizans Dwellings Acts, 1868 to 1882 (Mr. Torrens' Acts), I am directed to state that the primary object of these Acts is to secure the improvement or demolition of houses which are “in a state dangerous to health, so as to be unfit for human habitation, but they also empower the local authority to deal with any “obstructive building”-i.e., a building which, although not in itself unfit for human habitation, is so situated that, by reason of its proximity to other buildings, it stops ventilation, or otherwise makes or conduces to make such other buildings to be in a condition unfit for human habitation, or prevents proper measures from being carried into effect for remedying the evils complained of in respect of such other buildings. Under these Acts, on the report of the medical officer of health that any premises are unfit for human habitation, the authority are to ascertain from a surveyor or engineer whether the causes of the evils can be remedied by structural alterations and improvements, or whether the premises ought to be demolished. In the former case the authority are empowered to require the owner to execute the necessary structural alterations, and, on default, they may order the closing or demolition of the premises, or may execute the necessary works at the expense of the owner. If the report of the engineer or surveyor is to the effect that the premises should be demolished, they may order the demolition of the premises, and, on default of the owner, may themselves take down and remove them. The authority may in like manner require the removal of an “obstructive building” as defined above. When, however, an order is made on an owner for the execution of works or the demolition of a building which is unfit for human habitation, the authority may be required by him to purchase the premises. Where the authority thus acquire lands, they or their lessees are to hold the property on trust, first, for providing the labouring classes with suitable dwellings within the jurisdiction of the authority by the construction of new buildings, or the repairing or improvement of existing buildings; and, secondly, the opening out and widening of closed or partially closed alleys or courts inhabited by the labouring classes by pulling down any building, or otherwise leaving such open spaces as may be necessary to make the alleys or courts healthful.
As regards the Artizans and Labourers Dwellings Improvement Acts, 1875 to 1882 (Sir R. Cross's Acts), the Board direct me to state that, although under these Acts no duties are expressly imposed on the authority (the Metropolitan Board of Works being the authority under these Acts in the metropolis, except in the City of London), the Board think it right to draw attention to their provisions, as it devolves on the medical officers of health of the vestries and district boards to make the official representations on which the improvement schemes are based. The Act of 1875 recites :- -“ That various portions of many cities and boroughs are so built, and the buildings therein are so densely inhabited, as to be highly injurious to the moral and physical welfare of the inhabitants : that there are in such areas a great number of houses, courts, and alleys. which, by reason of the want of light, air, ventilation, or of proper conveniences, or from other causes, are unfit for human habitation, and fevers and diseases are constantly generated there, causing death and loss of health, not only in the courts and alleys, but also in other parts of such towns; that it often happens that, owing to the above circumstances, and to the fact that such houses, courts, and alleys are the property of several owners, it is not in the power of any one owner to make such alterations as are necessary for the public health : and that it is necessary for the public health that many of such houses, courts, and alleys should be pulled down, and that such areas should be reconstructed, and that, in connection with the reconstruction of those areas, it is expedient that provision be made for dwellings for the working class who may be displaced in consequence thereof."
This Act and the amending Acts, it will be observed, contemplate the dealing with whole areas when the houses are so structurally defective as to be incapable of repair, and so ill-placed with reference to each other as to require to bring them up to a proper sanitary standard, that they should be demolished and reconstructed.