Private renters failing to press for repairs to their homes, says Citizens Advice

By agency reporter
July 13, 2017

Private renters are not pressing landlords to carry out repairs to their home over fears they will be evicted, reveals Citizens Advice.

A new report from the charity finds more than two in five private renters (41 per cent) – the equivalent of 1.85 million households – have waited longer than they usually should for their landlord to carry out a repair in the last four years.

At best, living in a home in poor condition is an inconvenience, but at worse can impact on people’s health. Problems can range from a broken window or hot water outage, to leaks and dangerous electricals.

In the last year Citizens Advice helped people with more than 16,000 problems around private rented sector homes in poor condition.

Landlords in the private rented sector have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time – usually a month or less, or 24 hours for the most serious cases.

When renters wait longer than is deemed reasonable, a court can order a landlord to carry out a repair, or award financial compensation. In some cases, tenants will receive both.

But findings from the report It's broke, let's fix it: improvimg redress for private renters show renters aren’t holding their landlord to account because of concerns they could lose their home. A YouGov survey of over 700 private renters in England finds:

  • Nearly three in five (57 per cent) of renters who could get compensation said they didn't want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted.
  • Half of renters (51 per cent) also said another concern was that their landlord would increase their rent if they continued complaining.

One way renters can make sure their landlord carries out a repair, while also protecting themselves from eviction, is by obtaining a notice from their local authority’s Environmental Health Team.

But this is only granted when there is a serious health and safety issue, such as an electrical hazard or a structural fault, leaving renters with more minor issues unprotected from retaliatory action by their landlord.

Renters are also shunning other options for redress because of the cost, time and complexities involved. Only pne per cent of people who could get compensation take their case to court.

Rather than pursuing the issue with their landlord or taking formal action, Citizens Advice finds renters take matters into their own hands, with nearly a third (30 per cent) carrying out repairs themselves and 14 per cent paying for repairs out of their own pocket.

One family who asked Citizens Advice for help had spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a range of issues in their home, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.

Citizens Advice is calling for better protection against retaliatory evictions by rolling out independent complaints bodies – or ADR schemes – across the private rented sector.

Only 0.005 per cent of private rented homes are covered by an independent ADR scheme so Citizens Advice wants the government to make membership compulsory, and renters to be guaranteed protection from losing their home while their case is looked at.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation.

“Homes in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to Citizens Advice for help with. Issues such as broken fittings, faulty electricals or leaks can make life hard for renters and can even lead to ill health. But renters aren't pursuing their rights to repair because they are worried their landlord will put up their rent or evict them. To add to this, formal routes to redress aren’t being used either because they’re too difficult and expensive.

“Rent is the most expensive costs households face, but protections for renters simply don’t reflect this. The new government needs to make it easier for people to have their rights enforced when their home is in poor condition. The redress process also needs to give renters protection from retaliatory action, so they feel confident reporting a problem in their home and don’t feel like their only option is to dip into their own pocket.”

Read the report It's broke, let's fix it: improvimg redress for private renters here

* Citizens Advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/

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