Hundreds of thousands of private renters 'living in unsafe properties'

By agency reporter
June 27, 2019

Weak regulation of private renting is leaving hundreds of thousands of tenants living in hazardous homes in England, research by Citizens Advice has revealed.

A survey of landlords and tenants conducted by ComRes on behalf of Citizens Advice revealed many landlords don’t know or understand their legal obligations, while renters aren’t aware of their rights or don’t feel able to enforce them.

It means many tenants live in homes with health-affecting hazards such as mould or dangerous problems such as defective or missing smoke or carbon monoxide alarms.

The charity wants a national housing body for private renting to set standards, which could include creating a home 'MOT', setting a 'fit-and-proper-person' test for landlords, and standardising rental contracts. Some three quarters (75 per cent) of landlords agree a single national housing body responsible for setting standards would make their job easier.

The report, Getting the house in order, found that landlords are not meeting obligations on repair for which they are responsible.

Three in five tenants (60 per cent) identified disrepair in their home in the last two years that was not caused by them and that their landlord was responsible for fixing. One in six (15 per cent) said the disrepair was a major threat to their health and safety.

Almost one in three tenants (32 per cent) said their house did not have a carbon monoxide alarm despite the legal requirements to have at least one. This affects around 900,000 homes.

In its survey of landlords, research found about a quarter of landlords failed to make sure there was a smoke alarm on each floor of all of their properties (25 per cent). The same number failed to carry out an annual gas safety check or make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were working (26 per cent).

At the same time, almost one in three landlords (31 per cent) said they find it difficult to keep up with rules and regulations. Just half (49 per cent) did not know the potential penalty (a fine of up to £5,000) for not checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order on the first day of the tenancy. The same proportion did not know the penalty for faling to carry out a gas safety check.

One renter went to Citizens Advice for help because a leaky roof in her building meant rain was dripping into her young child’s bedroom, causing mould. She said her child’s health was being affected by the hazard but that after two years of going around in circles her landlord had still not fixed the problem.

The government has made reforms in the private rented sector in recent years, such as laws to ensure all rented homes are fit to be lived in, banning most tenant fees, and proposed the abolition of 'no-fault' section 21 evictions.

However, renters lack the necessary  power to ensure standards are consistent, and landlords and tenants lack the knowledge they need for standards to be upheld.

Citizens Advice helped almost 60,000 people with issues related to private renting last year. One in four (24 per cent) had issues getting repairs completed and more than 2,500 were being harassed by their landlord.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Too many private renters live in hazardous homes - often with dangerous flaws. Weak and confusing regulation means landlords can struggle to understand their legal obligations, while tenants find it hard to get problems in their homes resolved. The government must establish a national housing body to ensure landlords let property that meet legal standards, and gives renters the support they need when they don’t.”

* Read Getting the house in order here

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

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