21 Oct 2014
Environmental health teams are at the forefront of activities to prevent poor condition in private rented homes. They have first hand insight of the scale of poor conditions and the challenges renters face in getting repairs fixed. Nick Gracie-Langrick, Enforcement Officer from the London Borough of Wandsworth, has written this guest blog on how the Tenancies (Reform) Bill will help protect renters and improve conditions across the sector.
Supporting tenants who complain
Across the country one third of the 4.1million private rented homes fail the decent homes standard. Almost 10% have the worst possible energy efficiency rating; far too many tenants are living in poor, unsafe and substandard homes.
Local authorities have the power to improve privately rented properties. They can serve formal enforcement notices, which require the landlord to complete works or repair problems within a given timescale. Landlords are served with these notices – and given a reasonable time to comply – following a property inspection. When landlords do not comply, the local authority can complete the works themselves, or prosecute or both. There have been some substantial prosecution fines recently, including one totaling almost £66,000 for two London Borough of Redbridge landlords.
For many authorities, most of the visits they make arise only as a result of a tenant contacting them; although some do work proactively to target areas of poor quality rented stock. Local authorities know that tenants can be evicted as a result of their work. To reduce the chance of this happening, they try to work in partnership with the landlord rather than taking an adversarial stance straight away. But in far too many cases, the landlord ignores these attempts and takes no action to improve their property.
Finding some of the worst properties can be the biggest challenge. In my roles at Birmingham, Brighton and now Wandsworth, I have seen families living in cellars, deep freezes and sheds. I know how desperate matters can be. Local authorities have finite resources so their enforcement staff need to be inspecting and improving the worst homes. We need tenants to come forward so that we can identify these homes. With many renters living in fear of eviction this can be impossible.
Sadly, I can name many examples of my work (including proactive work) that has resulted in tenants being evicted as part of the process; landlords blaming their tenants for interfering is the main reason this happens. We ask renters to request works from the landlord before contacting the council.
From an enforcing officer’s view, what I like about Sarah Teathers’ proposed Tenancies (Reform) Bill is that tenants will feel increasingly confident about contacting local authorities to report poor housing conditions. The frequent evictions following intervention will also stop. The same tenant that has complained will still be in the property once the improvements have been carried out – they will benefit from much better living conditions. I am confident that once the local authority intervention has passed, the landlord and tenant relationship can return to the pre-complaint situation. For the assured shorthold tenancy to retain the flexibility it provides, I hope the Bill will encourage landlords to be more proactive about ensuring properties meet current decency standards.