Private rented sector is failing millions of tenants, claims York University study

EXPERTS at York University have called for annual ‘MOTs’ of private rented properties to combat the emergence of a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market.

The review, The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential, claims that cuts and changes to social security benefits implemented by the Government’s welfare reforms are fuelling the emergence of such ‘slums’.

But poor conditions aren’t just experienced by those at the bottom of the market — there are homes at the top end that are also non-decent. Overall, it claims that millions of private renters have been failed over the past decade through poor policy and a lack of strategy.

The authors, Dr Julie Rugg and David Rhodes from York’s Centre for Housing Policy, first conducted a detailed review of the private rented sector 10 years ago. In this latest study, they have suggested the introduction of a ‘Property MOT’ — operating in a similar way to that for cars — in which all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection.

However, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), responded that it is time for councils to show “strong political leadership” and drive up standards by using the powers they already possess to tackle rogue landlords.

“Since our first review was published, declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting – particularly families with young children,” said Rugg.

“Unfortunately, in its current form the private rental market isn’t providing a suitable alternative, and in the absence of an overarching vision from government we’ve seen reams of policies and regulations to address problems in the sector which are not joined up or thought through.

“We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role renting plays in our housing market and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it meets the needs of all those who live there.”

The review, funded by the Nationwide Foundation, sets out to provide a detailed, independent analysis of who lives in private rented housing, how their needs are being met and the impact of policy interventions over the last 10 years. The main findings include:

  • Current regulation of the sector is “confused and contradictory” and “failing at multiple levels”. Opportunities for linkage and simplification are being missed, with tenants and landlords unsure of their rights and responsibilities
  • Poor conditions are a problem at both ends of the market – one in five homes let at the top 20% of rents are non-decent, to one in three let at the bottom 20%. Conditions get worse the longer tenants are in their property, indicating that poor property management rather than old housing stock is the root cause
  • Changes to welfare reform are creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market as more tenants are unable to afford to meet their current rent levels or find accommodation without the help of statutory or third sector agencies
  • Policy interventions are increasingly focused on helping higher and middle-income renters priced out of ownership, with little or no help for those on low incomes
  • The review concludes that no government has been clear on the function of renting within the housing market and as a result, interventions have been piecemeal and poorly targeted

“For years politicians have ignored the needs of private renters, resulting in a market that all too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes,” said Leigh Pearce, the Nationwide Foundation’s chief executive.

“It’s time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting. We hope this review will be the start of a cross-party conversation to make that happen.”

The ‘Property MOT’ would operate in a similar way to that which exists for cars: all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection. It would bring together current requirements such as electrical and gas safety certificates and energy efficiency reports, but also include a new assessment according to a basic minimum standard.

The MOT test would be conducted by independent inspectors and would be a tax-deductible business cost for landlords.

Rugg added: “Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards.

“A ‘Property MOT’ would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards won’t lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution.

“This proposal is just one way in which existing legislation can be simplified to make the sector work better for everyone.”

But the RLA, which contributed to the review, said it wanted to see councils commit to rooting out the “criminal landlords giving the sector a bad name”. The organisation said there should also be a root and branch review of all regulations affecting the sector.

“Whilst the Government’s own data shows that 84% of private tenants are satisfied with their accommodation, no one should have to face living in sub-standard accommodation,” said David Smith, the RLA’s policy director.

“With RLA research showing that there are well over 100 Acts of Parliament regulating the sector, the problem is with the enforcement of these laws.

“We are calling on councils to provide the political leadership needed to use the extensive powers they have to find and root out the minority of landlords who are criminals and have no place in the market.

“We agree with concerns about the complexity of the legislation surrounding the market. Tenants, landlords and local authorities all need to clearly understand their roles, responsibilities and the powers available to tackle poor housing. For many this has become difficult to achieve.

“A root and branch review of all regulations affecting the sector needs to be carried out to understand if they are achieving what was originally intended. There is no point passing new laws and regulations if the existing ones are not being enforced properly.”



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