Safe and decent homes
9 Dec 2014
A third of private rented homes are classified by the government as non-decent; far higher than all other tenures. Shockingly, 6 in 10 renters told us that they had experienced a problem with damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations and gas leaks in the last year alone.
Today we are publishing our report on what needs to be done to improve conditions and deliver safe and decent homes to England’s 9 million renters including the growing numbers of families that find themselves living in the sector.
In addition to the huge amount of evidence that our services staff have on problems with privately rented homes, we’ve undertaken an extensive programme of research with landlords, local authorities and renters to find out what the key barriers to improving poor conditions are in order to develop a set of strong policy recommendations to improve the sector.
I have been fortunate enough to work closely with frontline housing staff, including Shelter advisors and environmental health teams. I’ve been into people’s homes and seen first-hand the chilling effects of poor conditions on renters’ lives. Too often renters are too scared to complain or frustrated by a landlord who refuses to improve conditions. What is more, for all the homes that environmental health teams visit, we know that there are many more people suffering in silence. This is largely because local authorities lack resources and basic information on their local private rented sector to take proactive enforcement action and renters are too scared to complain.
You could argue that this represents the situation at the very worst end of the market. But unfortunately we know that this experience is mirrored, albeit to a varying extent, throughout the entire sector.
In an overheated market, renters lack consumer bargaining power to negotiate for better conditions. We found that across the country over 200,000 renters faced revenge evictions after complaining about poor conditions in the last year alone. A much higher number (1 in 8) didn’t complain about poor conditions or challenge a rent increase because they feared eviction.
While there are rogue landlords who deliberately exploit renters, there are far more amateur and accidental landlords, whose actions, while less malicious, are equally dangerous. Our YouGov survey of over 1000 landlords found that almost a third (27%) could be described as accidental landlords, who have either inherited or couldn’t sell a property, and end up letting it out. On top of that, more than three-quarters (77%) have never been a member of any trade body or held any licence or accreditation. Given that the vast majority of landlords only own one or two homes, and there is a severe lack of centralised data on landlords and stock they own, the market is not only un-professionalised but also extremely fragmented. This poses a real challenge to improving conditions, particularly given the lack of financial incentives for landlords operating in such an overcrowded market.
Taking all these factors into account, the Safe and Decent Homes report proposes bold, practical solutions to drive up standards and ensures that everyone can access a decent, affordable, secure private rented home. With demand high and rising, and the imbalance between landlords’ and renters’ market power entrenched, the case for regulatory intervention has become urgent.
In order to effectively tackle poor conditions, we must employ a three-pronged approach
The consumer bargaining power of renters must be strengthened to enable renters to ask their landlord for better conditions without fear that they will lose their homes.
- Government must intervene to ensure landlords meet their basic legal requirements and are adequately trained in their responsibilities. This would principally be achieved through the introduction of a national register of landlords.
- Thirdly, the role of local authorities must be strengthened to better allow them to exercise their existing powers to improve the conditions where the market fails. They must be better resourced and provided, through a national register of landlords, with the data on their local private rented sector.
Greater consumer power, more professional landlords, better informed and better resourced local authorities would all help the market to function more effectively.
You can read our full set of policy recommendations here.