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Private landlord groups have hit back at a major Citizens Advice study which showed that “740,000 households in England live in privately rented homes that present a severe threat to tenants’ health” and called for the government to target “dodgy landlords”.

Reacting angrily to the report, the National Landlords Association issued a press release under the heading ‘Lies, lies and damned statistics’.

‘A Nation of Renters’, which was based on research by the UK think tank New Policy Institute, claimed rogue landlords are “raking in” £5.6 billion a year (including £1.3bn of housing benefit) for unsafe homes that fail to meet legal standards.

The report said these properties have category 1 hazards – the most serious of problems – which can include severe damp, rat infestations and risk of explosions. It added that the latest available data showed these properties contain 510,000 children and 180,000 have a disabled person.

The report also showed:

  • 16% of privately rented homes are physically unsafe – far higher than the 6% in the social rented market
  • 8% of privately rented homes have serious damp
  • 10% pose a risk of a dangerous fall
  • 6% are excessively cold.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Rogue landlords are putting profits before safety. With a growing private rental sector, increasing numbers of people – including more than 500,000 children – are falling prey to landlords who fail to meet decent standards.

“The government has rightly said it wants to tackle the country’s housing crisis – it must make targeting dodgy landlords, giving tenants better rights and driving up standards a major part of that effort.”

Citizens Advice said private renters are “woefully under-protected” and have to navigate through numerous pieces of complex legislation to seek legal redress from landlords.

Amongst its recommendations, the charity said a national landlord register should be set up to help ensure landlords operating illegally cannot move to different areas to avoid legal action.

NLA: ‘Loose definitions’

NLA chief executive officer Richard Lambert, whose group has over 27,000 paying members, said: “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.

“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.

“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”.

RLA: ‘Improved standards’

The Residential Landlords Association, which represents almost 20,000 private sector residential landlords in England and Wales, called for a review of enforcement capacity and resources following the report.

Whilst any physically unsafe homes are already illegal, the report is a timely reminder of the importance of better enforcement, the RLA said, adding that “with landlord investment running at £50 billion a year, the standard of private rented housing has improved by 36% between 2006 and 2013”.

RLA chairman Alan Ward said: “No tenant should ever have to put up with unsafe housing, and those landlords that wilfully provide such accommodation have no place in the market. Today’s report highlights the growing need for better enforcement of the wide range of powers already available to local authorities. The hazards identified by CAB are already illegal and calls into question the use of housing benefit for unfit properties.

“With council enforcement departments under serious pressure we are calling on the government to review the capacity and resources available so that we can crack down on the small minority of criminal landlords that are causing misery for their tenants.”

Generation Rent: ‘Criminal landlords’

Generation Rent director Betsy Dillner said: “Because renting is more expensive than paying off a mortgage, renters are at a disadvantage when it comes to building up savings. Private renters are half as likely to have more than £8,000 in savings compared with mortgage holders. Without government action to bring down the cost of housing, renters will fall further behind the rest of society.

“With fewer renters able to afford a leap into homeownership, and 2 million children growing up in private rented homes, the government must make renting suitable for longer term living. It is time to protect tenants from no-fault evictions, bring homes up to decent standards and make it harder for criminal landlords to operate.”

Essential Living: ‘British psyche’

Build to Rent developer Essential Living said the changing demographic make-up of private renters in England highlights the need for more purpose-built rental accommodation, especially in London and the South East.

Martin Bellinger, chief operating officer at Essential Living, said: “This is a timely and welcome report which articulately describes why we need greater focus on building homes specifically for rent. Clearly, there is an inherent desire to own built-in to the British psyche. But we believe that by creating service-driven housing, paid for by investors who want to hold it for the long term, perceptions of renting could improve.”

CIEH: ‘Totally unacceptable’

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s Bob Mayho said: “This report adds further evidence that there are an unacceptable number of properties in England that fail to meet decent living standards and this is totally unacceptable for a modern country in the 21st Century. Local authorities are struggling to deal with the rapid growth of the private rented sector, in particular with ensuring tenants don’t suffer from excessive cold, damp and mould, slips and unsafe conditions.

“Councils may have the powers but they don’t necessarily have the resources to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and we want to see the government urgently tackle the most pressing housing issues facing the country, including the quality of decent, affordable accommodation in the private rented sector. We would also support the calls in Citizens Advice’s report for a national register of landlords and making it easier for councils to introduce licensing.”

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