Tower block developers and owners who put lives at risk could be sent to prison for two years and hit with unlimited fines.
In a shake-up designed to prevent a repeat of the deadly Grenfell inferno, residents will be able to raise their concerns over a building’s safety with a new national regulator.
The watchdog will have the power to launch prosecutions if there are fears about design and construction.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, who will appoint the regulator, said: “No one should be living in buildings which are unsafe, yet far too many owners are still dragging their feet.”
He said £600million had been made available to social housing providers and 150 private landlords to remove aluminium composite cladding – the type that let the Grenfell fire spread so quickly.
Seventy-two people died when a blaze tore through Grenfell Tower west London in June 2017.
It took only minutes for fire to race up the outside of the building and spread to all four sides.
A public inquiry heard evidence that the highly combustible material in the cladding was the primary cause of the fire’s spread.
Mr Jenrick has given owners who try to dodge their responsibilities until the end of the month to comply with his instructions.
If they fail to do so they will be named and shamed until the regulator is up and running with more powerful sanctions.
They will include prosecution if a developer is told a design is unsafe but carries on building anyway, or uses cheaper and more dangerous materials without getting the regulator’s permission to do so.
Those who refuse orders to remove cladding or replace fire doors will also be hauled before the courts.
Mr Janrick added: “Inaction will not be accepted and will have consequences.”