Hannah Gousy
 
Hannah is a policy officer at Shelter

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By Hannah Gousy

Can’t Complain

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

  • Jonathan Stapleton

    I am lucky enough to have an excellent landlady but, sadly, many don’t.

    The 9 million renters campaign to protect renters against retaliatory eviction is an excellent initiative but can only be the start of wider tenancy law reform.

    As mentioned in this article, tenants are generally on 6 or 12 month contracts and can also be subject to unpredictable rent rises. Tenants just can’t plan their lives properly with this sort of uncertainty.

    Is it time to make a return to some sort of protected or longer-term tenancies which would give tenants security of tenure for the medium to long term? Should we consider stricter controls on rent rises to protect tenants against retaliatory rent increases?

    Many landlords would say such measures would reduce the supply of rented homes. I disagree – the houses and flats would still be there and it is very unlikely landlords would agree to leave them empty.

    Significant tenancy reform is long overdue – well done to Shelter for getting the ball rolling!

  • Marcus

    I’m so glad Shelter have made this an issue, but they should have done this sort of thing SO LONG AGO. IT should have been one of *THE* first things they did, but it’s better late than never.
    It would be nice to see vulnerable people protected from the shenanigans of private landlords and landladies, particularly the single folk, and those close to retirement who haven’t been able to afford to get a roof of their own over their heads.

  • carol martin

    Prior to retirement I was a neighbourhood advisor in inner city Bham-so lots of private rentals. My understanding of a Sec 21 was that there is a right of appeal in as much as we would not have considered a homeless report on the back of a Sec 21 because the landlord has to go to court to actually get the tenant out if they refuse to go and the court does require reasons. Of course a sec21 could intimidate plus we all know landlords lie-you can guess the most common reasons where I worked-my relative is getting married and I need it for him, I want to do a refurb. but as they are not required to provide collaborative evidence they get away with the lies but I do not quite go along with your statement that there is no redress following the issue of a Sec21.

    Of course I totally agree that we need radical reform-rent controls/longer tenancies/licensing of all private sector lets and registration of all landlords. Shelter and us your colleagues should demand answers/commitments from all the political parties on the run up to the general election.

    • Mark

      I think it is rather a sweeping statement to say landlords lie ? We do have perjury laws in the uk ! I am always amazed at the failings of the royal mail postal system when it comes to the delivery of section 21 notices I send to my tenants even when I have obtained a certificate of posting ? They always mysteriously and quite oddly never arrive at the address ? Quite puzzling how the government managed to sell off such a seemingly incompetent postal service for such a profit when it never seems to deliver the letters I send to my tenants ?

      • carol martin

        What is the problem-if you have proof of postage you can go to court for a possession notice?
        I am prepared to qualify the statement by saying some landlords lie as do some tenants and I am perfectly happy to concede that some landlords and tenants deserve one another.
        Talking to my chiropodist this very week who has a property managed by an agent-he totally agrees with me that the sector is not fit for purpose. Longer tenancies as in continental Europe-everyone needs stability not just those with children. Licensing of all properties and registration of all landlords.

  • http://ollieglass.com/ Ollie Glass

    Shelter, why have you chosen this approach rather than other options?

    It seems that landlords could work around it by finding a different reason to evict tenants if that’s what they want to do.

    An alternative would be to have renters report conditions to the local authority, who could have powers to force landlords to do repairs and prevent the property from being let to anyone else.

    Would like to know how you decided on this campaign.

    • Linda Ballard

      Ollie, I am sorry to say that this type of scheme already exists, but it doesnt work. Read my comment above. I have reported conditions to EHO and was given section 21 on two separate occasions in two different council areas…. the renter needs protection against rogue landlords and a sheme that does work.

      • Wonder Wiggle

        It was articles only a short time ago about the state of private rental housing, how bad conditions are, some of these landlords who rent hundreds if not thousands of housing stock are in fact some gov members.

    • carol martin

      Ollie-I live in Birmingham which has seen a 75% increase in private sector rentals over the last 10 years. The Council ( as are all metropolitan councils) faced with having to make savage cuts with more to come. Even before the cuts, as someone that used to work as an advisor I can tell you that the officers are overworked dealing with illegal eviction and dire properties. They have a pointing system which means they are not going to pursue disrepair unless it is a danger/health risk so you can see the bar is very high-way below that required for the Decent Homes strategy of the social housing sector.

  • Alistair Wilson

    I posit how *best* to protect tenants from rogue landlords – how *best* to see the quality of accommodation in the private rental sector improve?
    Your ideas are well and good, but landlords need to have the minimum acceptable (legal) standards in mind from the start of their property rental business, and risk of hefty penalties in favour of local authorities, tenants and courts, should they fail to comply with reasonable regulations.

    Some authorities have used new HMO powers to focus their efforts on a ‘family home’ agenda: put pressure on landlords of poorly maintained properties in the student/low pay private rental sector – typically ones with 3 or more unrelated sharers… hoping that more of these ‘family homes’ become available to families via purchase or since the landlord can thus avoid paying ~£400 for an HMO licence. It fits various other agendas but is not the optimum approach to improving housing stock conditions.

    If we want the quality of housing stock to improve through maintenance and to avoid tenants reporting faults and thus suffering retaliatory tenancy termination (landlord getting rid of a tenant who brings him to book) – getting the minimum 6months assured shorthold – then we need to see a registration/inspection regime for ALL rental properties, with basic – and I emphasise basic – standards required and enforced, based on HHSRS.
    This is most likely to happen via interaction of Council Tax / Electoral Role / Insurance / Land Registry records; one of these will usually know that a property is in the rental market: make it reportable to a local govt/publicly accessible database, the fact that an address is privately rented – I cannot see any data protection issues in this, if the source of the information is not public but only shared by the agencies and on request by the property owner under normal Data protection legislation.
    But where a landlord continues to pay the council tax on his rented out property (outside of the rules), maybe pays all bills (avoiding capital gains at a later date by claiming it was his main home all along?), leaves his insurer and land registry thinking he lives at the address with both not knowing where the landlord actually lives… now how is Local Govt going to find out that the property is in the rental market?
    Land Registry should make it a requirement that they hold the landlords actual residential address… ?

    Basic standards?
    For instance: a modern electrical consumer unit providing residual current protection (correctly required by electrical regs in conjunction with electric showers), well-fitting windows, doors and windows that provide security, building regs standard loft insulation, zero evidence of damp penetration & suitable ventilation in all bathrooms & kitchens – preferably to include a test of brickwork permeability (is there such a test, you know, where most water poured against brickwork fall to the ground and is not absorbed?), U-bends on all relevant pipework, gas safety certificate, all signs of subsidence, sagging (lath & plaster?) ceilings, and significant cracks in walls and lintels satisfactorily explained by an inspection report from a qualified surveyor &/or fixed by suitably qualified builders, suitable electrical supply (economy7 is very expensive in a poorly insulated flat, where running washing machine at night is disallowed for noise nuisance and tenants have irregular hours, thus require storage heaters on boost frequently..) and I’d like to add basic facilities… a door bell / knocker, a letterbox, a phone line in place ready to have connected..

    Landlords should also receive an automatic penalty (ie. simple court application, no need for court hearing) if they carry out building works without notice to the tenant. Driving misdemeanors carry automatic penalties – so should landlord offences. The need to take a landlord to court for failure to comply with the tenant deposit scheme is a scandal in my opinion: it should be a fine of 1x deposit (+court admin fee) without court hearing, and up to 3x deposit, minimum 1x deposit (+court admin fee, proportionately more charged if landlord is in denial and thus wasting everyones time) with a court hearing.

    None of this would affect the many good, responsible, honest and fair landlords: It is all about landlords who want rent as the icing on the cake of a property investment, forgetting that property ownership is a responsibility – there will always be maintenance costs if the property is not to deteriorate over time.

    • Julian

      If the government distributed preferable finance to the private sector instead of ring fencing it for RSL’s standards would rise and rents would fall. But as usual shelter is more about politics these days than the truth of the argument.

      • carol martin

        does this mean subsiding landlords from our taxes? We already are through housing benefit. Shouldn’t these l/ls have a business plan with maintenance/cost of borrowing factored in?

    • carol martin

      ticked like-add in housing benefit records-that will give you the purported residential address for those landlords as it is a condition of claiming. Central government has to act by making all of this statutory and providing the money-my Councillor tells me there is no money to adopt the Newham licencing scheme or the Scottish registration of all landlords-this being Bham where the Council is looking to cut everything that is not statutory.

  • Linda Ballard

    I have been in three rented properties since leaving my violent ex husband. The first landlord (direct contact with no agent) gave me a section 21 after me getting in touch with the EHO about living conditions. I ended up homeless and sofa surfing when no accomodation could be found. Then came property number 2. No heating, no hot water and mould. Again I contacted EHO when housing agent refused to address the situation. Yet again served a section 21 and had to find alternative accomodation. Now I am in property three and am terrified to press the agent to fix problems. None of the above have paid deposits into deposit holding schemes and therefore all of my previous homes (I use the word sparingly) should have been safe from eviction by section 21….. However I didnt find this out until recently.

    I would like to see new legislations forcing all private landlords to use their local council housing departments as their agents rather than independent housing agencies. This would ensure continuity of standard rents, ‘on tap’ contact with EHO, automatic regulating of private lets and a balanced implementation of the rules and regs for both owner and renter. Some may say that this would cause extra stress on the Councils for the extra manpower needed to implement such a scheme, however the landlords could pay the same letting fee that they would an independent agent which in turn would give ample funds to enable specialist staff to be employed. By implementing such a scheme all housing needs and availability would be monitored and up to date data could be made available at the push of a button. There would be less opportunity for housing benefit/council tax fraud, prevention of non-declaration of income gained from landlords letting out properties and councils will be made aware of homes that are left standing and empty by owners. Which in turn could lead to a ‘use it or lose it’ scheme in the future.

  • Zoë Brooks

    Wouldn’t it be best/easiest for everybody if all rented properties were checked for problems e.g. damp, on an annual basis?
    This way, tenants wouldn’t need to report a problem to a mean landlord and landlords would have no way of avoiding their commitments.
    I would include social housing in these checks too.

  • Mark

    I am a landlord with 90 tenants over 80 % being in receipt of housing benefit . Non payment of rent following benefit changes has become increasingly problematic and now many of these tenants are in arrears ! I am being forced to evict most of my tenants relying on housing benefit purely for business reasons ! I still have to pay my mortgages and I foresee the rent arrears issue becoming much worse in the future . I am a chartered surveyor whose properties are immaculate but yet I still have tenants complaining to judges (at the 11th hour and normally for the first time) at court hearings , claiming repair problems with their accommodation, grasping for a stay of execution. We should not be punishing private landlords for the inadequate supply of social housing in the uk. Shelter should be lobbying government to improve the supply of social housing and not for tactical law changes in court procedures to punish landlords for simply wanting possession of their properties . If a tenant is living in a property which is in disrepair why would they want to stay ? Why did they rent the property in the first place ? Such claims of disrepair will be a huge can of worms and virtually un enforceable in a court of law! I spent twenty minutes yesterday in court explaining explicitly to the judge how I served a section 21 notice as the tenant alleged he had not received it . How long will it take a judge to determine whether a condensation problem in a property is a bone fide issue ?

    • carol martin

      presumably some tenants take on a property where the landlord has promised to do the repairs but doesn’t and their children will be settled in school or it is close to work.You must know there is a shortage of private rented property plus you have to live where you can afford-my son has had to go to London because loads of work experience and a 2.1 degree does not deliver a job anymore-his room is OK and he is looking to move area to reduce his outgoings but easier said than done- plus there is no point in moving to a cheaper area if you then have to spend more time and money travelling.
      Social housing is not the answer-many people like my son are not on hosing benefit because a high rent to income ratio doesn’t qualify the under 35’s and these same people will not qualify for social housing.

      • Mark

        If a tenant accepts a property in poor condition and expects the landlord to fix it then they are at risk and they should not move in or sign a lease until the work is done ? Would you buy a car with a scratch on it if the garage promised to re paint it in three weeks time ? Caveat emptor ! Good on your son for chasing a job and for getting a good degree ! I too got a 2:1 and my first job was 235 miles from London ! I got on my bike and travelled to a job I never liked in pursuit of a better future ! I might add as a landlord who rents also in the private sector I have never had to evict any of these tenants as they typically pay their rent on time and treat my properties respectfully ! Of the forty or more occasions I have had to evict tenants through the courts they have all been in receipt of housing benefit ! I do have many genuine decent tenants on hb but my experiences to date have caused me to consider a complete u turn from a business plan letting to tenants in receipt of housing related benefits ! With property being in such short supply every effort should be made to assist landlords and not alienate them ? Or we can all pay more taxes and build more council houses thus dispensing with the need for private sector rentals ?

        • carol martin

          Cannot blame you for wanting to exclude HB claimants-you sound like a very reputable landlord behaving in a professional manner-the problem is that too many have jumped on the buy to let bandwagon without a business plan and do not behave responsibly. As it is clear no political party is going to embark on large scale social house building what exists has to work for everyone. Also my son and daughter would not score enough points to qualify for this housing and they do not want to live in it anyway-who can blame them-I grew up in a council house but times have changed.

          • Mark

            I don’t want to exclude hb tenants as I do have some lovely ones ! But I have had others on hb who turned out to be convicted bank robbers, attempted murderers , suicidal ( six different tenants) heroin addicts alcoholics etcetera etc ! These people are still human beings and must still live somewhere ? I was more accommodating in my earlier years as a landlord and took these incidents as an occupational hazard . But I have become far more cynical and realistic over time ! And from a business perspective the hb tenants just don’t work anymore ? Councils don’t help the situation and when I want to evict the bad apples they insist on the full legal eviction procedure and rarely assist tenants With re housing until the bailiff arrives! So using the section 21 notice method the timescales are ; two month section 21 notice , 6 weeks before a court hearing for possession , assuming possession granted min two weeks notice and after this stage one can apply for a bailiff s appointment another 6 weeks in Brent harrow or hillingdon ! This equates to a minimum of 23 weeks before I can legally remove the tenant and re let ! The reality is therefore tenants get much more time than the 6 month lease permits ! If a tenant wishes to complain about the conditions surely local authorities can deal with such matters in 23 weeks ??

          • carol martin

            homelessness was an issue I used to deal with and yes I know my own Council- Bham -insisted on the full eviction process-its gate keeping-I can say that now I do not work-they are under the cosh to keep the numbers down (Bham was hauled over the coals by Central Govt for having too many homeless people) plus the costs to the council tax payer of putting people in B&B while their “homelessness” is investigated-domestic abuse excluded and taken as heard. My husband was an Anti social behaviour manager with the housing Dept- i am well aware of who is out there. I will be revealing my age by decrying falling standards -such a post never existed when he first started work in Housing-his job changed from housing management to quasi social worker.

    • James Hams

      Simple answer to your question as to why people would want to live in bad conditions is, a roof over your head regardless of how bad it is is better than being homeless

      And to question your policy of housing benefit problems, you do know you can get the benefit paid directly to you thus cutting out the tenant so you don’t have problems with major arrears.