On Wednesday, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles formally responded to the CLG Committee’s report on the private rented sector. Before addressing the recommendations Mr Pickles noted that:
“The private rented market… is an important option for the millions of people who prefer the flexibility that renting offers, or who are simply saving up for a deposit so they can buy a place of their own.”
It is precisely because this is not the case that Shelter broadly welcome’s the Government’s response.
In the last 10 years the private rented sector has expanded rapidly: 1.3 million families in England now rent their homes. With home ownership increasingly out of reach and not enough social homes available to meet need, for the majority of these families private renting is no longer a lifestyle choice. Sixty per cent of families are living in the sector because they cannot afford to own their own home. Fewer than 10 per cent like the freedom and flexibility it gives them.
As demand for rented homes increases, rogue landlords flourish, taking advantage of people with limited choices. So it was reassuring to see the Government acknowledge the need to improve conditions and protect renters from these unscrupulous landlords.
The Government has proposed a wide ranging review of the current system “to ensure there is a robust framework in place to check that renters’ homes are safe”. This is a positive step.
For the first time they are openly acknowledging the poor conditions many private renters are subjected to. Private rented homes are in worse condition than either owner-occupied or social rented housing: more than one in three fails the Government’s own Decent Homes Standard.
The plans to develop a property management code of practice are also encouraging. Landlords have a duty to rent out homes that are safe, decent, and free from hazards; yet one million renters still say their health has been affected by their landlord failing to make repairs or deal with poor conditions.
In order to provide effective reassurance this code of practice needs to be developed in close consultation with renters. Its content also needs to be underpinned by robust sanctions- we look forward to hearing more about plans to make it statutory.
Equally, without proper protection from illegal and retaliatory eviction renters will not be able to make use of this code of practice. Nor will they be able to demand the conditions, and freedom from harassment, that they are entitled to.
In this context the Government’s proposals to produce guidance “that sets out clearly the role of public authorities in protecting tenants from illegal eviction and harassment” should be welcomed.
In our over-heated rental market tenants have limited bargaining powers. Without adequate protection from eviction renters will not highlight poor practice for fear of losing their home.
Last year Shelter successfully campaigned for the removal of the £5,000 upper-limit on the fines imposed on rogue landlords. As a result the Government’s recognition that “such offences are not simply technical breaches of housing legislation but that they can have a real impact on individuals’ lives” is also a very welcome step forward.
Sizable fines send out a strong, clear message that bad practice will not be tolerated. Landlords are forced to clean up their act and tenants are given greater confidence to report poor conditions.
Once this change comes into effect it is vital that the Government aids local authorities in making the case for larger fines, and works directly with magistrates to help them recognise the human impact of these crimes.
While much of the detail is yet to be ironed out, we’re delighted that the Government has listened to our repeated calls to focus on conditions and rogue landlords. If we can now secure a thorough review of the current system, better rights for tenants, and appropriate penalties for non-compliance we will go some way to fixing private renting and eliminating rogues from the sector.