Private renters live in the worst conditions in the country. A third of private rented homes fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard – compared to only 15% in the social rented sector and 20% of owner occupied homes.
Our new research also shows that 61% of renters have experienced at least one of the following problems in the past 12 months: damp, mould, a leaking roof or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks.
Despite these widespread problems, complaints about poor conditions remain relatively low. Our concern is that renters don’t complain because they’re afraid that if they do, their landlord will evict them. This practice is known as retaliatory eviction – and it happens far too often. That’s why we’re launching our ‘9 million renters campaign’, calling on the Government to end retaliatory eviction, empower renters and tackle poor conditions in the private rented sector.
Our research shows that:
- Renters fear retaliatory eviction – 1 in 12 renters say they have avoided asking their landlord to repair a problem or improve conditions in the last year because they were scared of eviction.
- Renters do suffer retaliatory eviction: Over 213,000 renters across England have been evicted or served with an eviction notice in the last year because they complained to their landlord, letting agent or council about a problem in their home.
Why is this?
Renters in the UK generally have very short fixed term contracts of either 6 or 12 months. During the fixed term landlords can only evict renters if they can prove certain grounds such as rent arrears. After the fixed term ends landlords can issue an eviction notice without having to provide any grounds of wrong doing on the renter’s part.
In a market where there simply aren’t enough homes to go around, renters are easily replaceable. Landlords know this, and so do renters themselves. There is currently no specific legislative protections in place to stop renters who report poor conditions being evicted from their homes. This obviously makes their position extremely precarious, and restricts their consumer power to bargain for better conditions. Many renters feel they have no choice but to put up with dreadful conditions, as they dare not risk provoking their landlord.
When compared to other countries, the fragile position of renters in the UK is stark. In many European countries such as France and Germany, renters are protected by longer fixed term tenancies. In places where shorter term tenancies are more commonplace – like Australia and New Zealand – renters who complain about poor conditions are protected from retaliatory eviction and other forms of retaliatory action such as rent increases. Even 39 of the 50 American states provide legislative protection from this practice.
What can be done?
We need robust, legislative measures that will empower renters to report poor conditions. Shelter is calling on Government to put restrictions in place to prevent Section 21 Notices – the legal notices that allows landlords to evict renters without proving any grounds – being served after a renter has complained about poor conditions. We are recommending that:
- Renters who report poor conditions to their landlords and are subsequently served with a Section 21 Notice should have the right to appeal the eviction notice.
- When a local authority issue a notice following an inspection identifying that there are dangerous hazards in a home, landlords should temporarily not be able to serve a Section 21 Notice.
These measures help landlords too.
These measures would rightly prevent rogue landlords from evicting renters who complain. Stopping the rogues will also help the majority of well-intentioned landlords maintain the condition of their properties, because empowering renters to report problems at an early stage will help prevent properties deteriorating, which increases the cost of repairs. Given that someone who is trained in the Housing Health and Safety Rating System would have to verify poor conditions also protects landlords from spurious complaints.
It is vital that the Government act to better protect renters living in poor conditions. Stamping out retaliatory eviction is essential to improving standards across the sector.
To find out more about our 9 million renters campaign and to get involved visit www.shelter.org.uk/9millionrenters’