In the wake of the recent Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning, causing the deaths of two men in Edgware, North London, new figures reveal that thousands more tenants could be at risk in their homes, according to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).
Analysis from The Times suggests that at least 375,000 tenants are living in homes with a potentially life-threatening fault. One cause of this is that landlords are defying regulations on rental standards – which were introduced solely to improve the quality of accommodation – leaving renters in low-quality or defective situations.
Tamara Sandoul, Housing Policy Manager at CIEH, comments:
“Carbon monoxide is a silent and odourless killer so tenants will not know if there is a danger. We urge the government to introduce a requirement for carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in all Private Rented Sector properties with gas-powered boilers to help save lives.
“Far too many people are living in unsafe conditions, especially in the private rented sector. Improving dangerous housing should be a key priority for the government.
“Whilst the size of the rented sector has increased dramatically, numbers of environmental health professionals simply have not kept pace. This must change.”
Sandoul believes that adequate resources should be provided to local authorities. This would allow housing teams the capacity and expertise to proactively find rogue landlords who are not providing high enough standards, or downright dangerous, accommodation. This move would help ensure that instead of waiting for incidents and tragedies such as the CO poisoning mentioned above to occur, action could be taken in advance, instead of afterwards.
This proactive (as opposed to reactive) approach could save many lives in the private rented sector and bring the market into the future – where safe homes and living conditions are the number one priority.
The CIEH is advocating for the government to commit to a landlord registration scheme for English landlords, which would provide better information for local authorities. Similar initiatives and relevant schemes are already in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Poor enforcement of regulations is a significant cause in the number of tenants in potentially dangerous living conditions.
Alan Ward, Chair of the Residential Landlords Association said:
“Tenants and good landlords are being let down by local authorities unable to properly enforce the powers they already have. RLA research has found that there are over 140 Acts of Parliament and more than 400 regulations affecting the private rented sector.
“Whilst the MPs on the Committee call for greater powers to protect tenants when they raise complaints about standards in a property, the reality is that these protections already exist and as the Resolution Foundation noted earlier this week, fewer than one-in-ten tenancies are ended by the landlord.
“The problem is that over-stretched councils simply do not have the resources to properly use such powers to protect tenants from the minority of landlords who are criminals and have no place in the sector. We therefore welcome calls by the Committee for greater resources for local authorities and greater political leadership by them to root out criminal landlords.
“It is vital also that Ministers adopt the Committee’s recommendation for the speedy establishment of a new housing court. This has been a key proposal called for by the RLA which would improve the speed of and access to justice for tenants and landlords. At present the courts are not fit for purpose when seeking to uphold tenant and landlord rights.”
Last year the RLA conducted a Freedom of Information exercise across all local authorities in England and Wales to measure enforcement activity over a five year period between 2012/13 and 2016/17. Some 296 councils responded. It found that over this period, there was a three per cent fall in inspections by councils related to the regulatory standard for private rented housing, known as the Housing, Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). There was also a seven per cent decrease in the number of Hazard Awareness Notices issued.