Reforms demanded as investigation reveals appalling conditions in private rented sector
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government, Communities, Health
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Housing charity Shelter and homelessness charity Crisis are demanding that the government makes urgent reforms, after a three-year investigation revealed appalling conditions in the private rented sector.
A report covering the investigation has detailed harrowing stories of people in vulnerable situations becoming trapped in homes that are a danger to their health and wellbeing, often powerless in the face of landlords who ignore their responsibilities, or refuse to improve their properties.
The investigation - the largest ever of its kind - followed 128 formerly homeless families and individuals in England over 19 months who have been found a place to live in the PRS.
Every person followed in the study reported problems with the conditions of their homes, some of which were extremely hazardous and negatively impacted on their health. Others reported falling into debt because of moving and heating costs, leaving them feeling anxious and worried about the future.
Each household in the study had problems with the conditions of their homes, including mice and rat infestations, caved in ceilings, electrical and gas hazards, and damp and mould. Some people said that themselves or their children developed health problems as a result, including one mother who reported that her baby developed a respiratory illness after living in a damp property.
Many said they felt trapped because they couldn’t afford to move from their properties. Others spoke of aggressive landlords who either threatened or served them with an eviction notice when they complained about problems in their homes.
One of the case studies in the report concerns a tenant called Nicky and her five-year-old son, who became homeless after her landlord illegally evicted her.
They moved into a property in North London in 2012 that was very cramped and infested with mice and red ants, but the landlord refused to do anything about the problems.
“The worst part about living there was the infestation. The mice and ants were all over the kitchen. We’d be sitting there having our dinner and we’d have to pick up our plate and put it on our lap because there’d be ants in the food.
“It was really awful having them all over the house, in my son’s room and in the kitchen around our food. When I asked the landlord for help to get rid of them, he did nothing about it and acted as if it was my fault. It took us two years to find a new home and cost me money that I didn’t have to move. It was a horrible experience and incredibly stressful for both me and my son.”
Since 2002, the number of households living in privately rented accommodation has grown by 80% to 3.8 million, according to government figures.
According to Shelter and Crisis, the report's findings suggest that the sector needs urgent and credible reform, and are calling on the government to:
• Address poor conditions in the PRS - The living conditions in all privately rented properties used for rehousing must at least meet the minimum legal standards. This should be checked by all resettlement agencies, and local authorities must act when they find properties in unfit conditions.
• Challenge problem landlord behaviour - The government must develop a stronger regulatory framework with appropriate penalties for landlords who do not maintain their properties to the legal standards.
• Provide longer term tenancies to give renters stability - Longer tenancies should be offered to all homeless people to give them the stability they need to put down roots and develop a stable home. They should also be able to make complaints against their landlords without fear that they could be evicted. This research conclusively shows the debilitating impact of people knowing that at any moment a landlord can give them two months’ notice to leave, even if their rent payment record is flawless. The government must consider what can be done to ensure the more widespread adoption of longer more stable tenancies.
• Improve support for vulnerable people moving in to private renting. All homeless people who need it should be offered financial support for the costs of moving into the PRS – including money for deposits and related housing costs such as furniture. There should be a high quality private rented sector access scheme in every local area and funded to provide ongoing support during tenancies in case something goes wrong, or if tenants need to find another property.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s heart-breaking to hear that so many privately renting families who are working hard to get back on their feet are being failed miserably. How can parents hope to give their children a better future when their homes are falling apart, making them ill, and forcing them into debt?
“This report should serve as a stark wake-up call to the government that private renting isn’t working for too many people. Unless we see urgent changes to private renting that give families a stable home where they can put down roots, many of them will continue struggling in vain to build themselves a brighter future.”
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, added: “These are shocking personal accounts of poor and insecure living conditions which have a serious impact on people’s health and lives. With more people than ever reliant on renting privately, we must make the sector work for everyone who needs it now. It is clear that at the moment too many landlords are not providing anywhere near adequate housing for people to live in.
“We know that with good landlords and enough of the right, sustained support, private renting can offer even vulnerable people a safe home and the platform to move on with their lives. But for too many this is just not the case.
“Local councils must prioritise supporting tenants and tackling poor property conditions and bad landlords, and central Government needs to give them enhanced powers and the funding to do so. Longer and more stable tenancies are also crucial if we really want to help people build a future for themselves, free from the fear that their home could be taken away at short notice.”
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