Rogue landlords in England are raking in £5.6 billion a year for 740,000 unsafe rented homes that fail to meet legal standards, a new study has found.
These privately rented homes present a severe threat to tenants’ health, according to the report from the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) with a host of dangers such as severe damp, rat infestations and the risk of explosions.
Overall the study reports that 16% of privately rented homes are physically unsafe, far higher than the 6% in the social rented market, some 8% of privately rented homes have serious damp, 10% pose a risk of a dangerous fall and 6% are excessively cold.
‘Rogue landlords are putting profits before safety. With a growing private rental sector, increasing numbers of people are falling prey to landlords who fail to meet decent standards,’ said Gillian Guy, CAB chief executive.
‘The Government has rightly said it wants to tackle the country’s housing crisis and it must make targeting dodgy landlords, giving tenants better rights and driving up standards a major part of that effort,’ she added.
With the cost of buying property rising steeply in many parts of the country, couples with children are now the most common household type in the private rental market and CAB says private renters are woefully under protected and have to navigate through numerous pieces of complex legislation to seek legal redress from landlords.
It says that taking court action against a landlord can be long, complicated and expensive. This is compounded by the fact many complaints have to be made to local authorities, which often do not have the capacity to act quickly.
The charity recommends that tenants should be entitled to rent refunds where properties are dangerous or not fit to live in and is calling for a national landlord register to be set up as this could help ensure landlords operating illegally cannot move to different areas to avoid legal action.
It also says that councils should also set up local licensing to tackle specific issues in their private rental markets as this could help to ensure landlords are providing the quality of housing and service the area needs and ensure tenants know what they can expect from a good landlord.
However, Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the National Landlords Association, criticised the report as unfair to the vast majority of landlords. ‘We recognise that bad practice exists in private housing, that it can have a devastating effect on those it affects, and that it needs to be stamped out. But this report uses loose definitions to compound a perception that private housing is insecure and unsuitable across the board, and it ignores the weight of evidence to the contrary,’ he said.
‘The English Housing Survey finds that the average tenancy now lasts just shy of four years, and that only 7% of tenancies are ended by landlords. Our own research shows that 86% of families consider their properties as their home and that 62% do not see renting as a barrier to family life. Furthermore just 0.5% of families who rent privately say they’ve had to move because their landlord increased their rent,’ he pointed out.
‘What this shows is that private housing is far from the CAB’s assertion of a market that is failing systematically to deliver what consumers want. Those who suffer at the hands of the criminal and negligent minority do so because of widespread failure of local councils to commit resources to enforcing the laws that already exist against poor landlords and criminal standards, and because of the failure of successive governments to incentivise the building of much needed homes that would relieve the pressure on the whole housing market,’ he added.