Millions of tenants are living in homes that contain dangerous safety hazards and have been deemed unfit for habitation under Government standards, as a third of private rental homes fail basic health and safety standards, new analysis shows.
29% of homes let by private landlords fail to meet the national Decent Homes Standard, meaning that they either contain safety hazards, or do not have acceptable kitchen and bathroom facilities, or adequate heating, according to exclusive research by The Independent.
In total, 1.4m households containing several million individuals are currently living in unsafe or unsuitable rental housing – almost 20,000 more than in 2013. While local councils and social housing landlords have a legal obligation to act if their homes are deemed to be substandard, there are far fewer requirements on private landlords.
This means that potentially lethal hazards are consistently being unreported or ignored, leaving millions of families at risk.
Data from the latest English Housing Survey shows that 795,000 homes let by private landlords – 17% of the total – currently contain the most dangerous type of safety hazard, which is up by 53,000 in the last three years. These Category 1 hazards include dangerous boilers, exposed wiring, overloaded electricity sockets and vermin infestations.
As the plummeting number of social homes and the soaring cost of homeownership force more and more people into the private rental sector, the new figures raise fresh concerns about safety risks, and the impact on health and quality of life for those living in these homes.
Private landlords are significantly worse at maintaining their properties than homeowners or social housing providers, the analysis shows. Just 18% of owner-occupied properties and 13% of social homes are considered to be substandard – much lower than the 29% of private rental housing.
And private landlords are more than twice as likely as social landlords to be letting a property containing a serious safety hazard. The Independent revealed last month that half a million social homes are substandard, but the problem is much worse in the private rental sector.
Almost one million private rental homes are deemed to be in a state of “substantial disrepair”, while 442,000 have damp in one or more rooms.
In addition to being classed as “non-decent” or having a Category 1 safety hazard, two other criteria – one relating to damp and the other to the state of disrepair – are used to determine if a home is in a poor condition.
Around one in ten private rental homes fail on three or four of the four measures of poor quality, meaning that they are likely to be unsafe, non-decent, in a state of serious disrepair and ridden with damp.
The Government has repeatedly refused calls to introduce compulsory licensing for private landlords and last year voted down a Parliamentary amendment, tabled by Labour, that would have made it a legal requirement for landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation.
Earlier this year, ministers announced that councils would be given power to impose fines of up to £30,000 on landlords who do not keep their properties in an adequate condition.
However, sources told The Independent that cash-starved councils are struggling to clamp down on rogue landlords in the face of Government-imposed budget cuts of up to 50%. More than 1,200 members of staff in councils’ environmental health departments were cut between 2010 and 2012 alone.
A Third of Rental Homes Fail Basic Health and Safety StandardsIn response to the latest figures, councils urged ministers to commit more money to helping them enforce regulations.
Just last week, the Housing Minister insisted that local authorities already have enough powers to tackle substandard property.
The Local Government Association’s housing spokesperson, Councillor Martin Tett, insists: “It’s essential that new private rented sector properties are built to a high standard, and that those already built are also maintained to a high standard.
“The vast majority of tenants in the private rented sector are satisfied with their accommodation, but it’s concerning that so many homes are not meeting the Decent Homes Standard.”
He adds: “In order to address this, councils need more resources from Government to help councils build more homes for rent, supported by adequate infrastructure and services, and incentives to help raise standards in the private rented sector.”
The proportion of substandard homes in the private rental sector plummeted from 47% in 2006 to 30% in 2013, after the then Labour government introduced the Decent Homes Standard, accompanied by billions of pounds of funding to help landlords improve the quality of homes.
While the money went predominantly to landlords in the social sector, experts believe it had a knock-on effect on housing standards across the board.
Since 2013, however, the rates of improvement have plateaued, with a decline of barely more than 1%.
Labour says that rogue landlords are “ripping off renters and taxpayers”, and vowed to introduce “proper minimum standards to put renters back in control”.
John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary, explains: “Renters too often don’t have the basic consumer rights that we take for granted in other areas. In practise, you have fewer rights renting a family home than you do buying a fridge-freezer. As a result, too many are forced to put up with poor quality and sometimes downright dangerous housing.
“Most landlords provide decent homes that tenants are happy with, but there are unfortunately some rogue landlords that are ripping off both renters and the taxpayer, by making billions from rent and housing benefit letting out substandard homes.”
He states: “After seven years of failure, the Conservatives clearly have no plan to fix the housing crisis. The next Labour government would call time on bad landlords. We’d introduce proper minimum standards to put renters back in control, and give councils the powers they need to tackle the worst offenders.”
In response, the Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, Alan Ward, says: “Every tenant should rightly expect their property to be safe, legal and secure. With over 400 regulations affecting the sector, there are already plenty of powers available to councils to ensure standards are upheld. What is lacking is the ability of cash-strapped councils to properly enforce them, letting down tenants and good landlords.
“We need a new system that frees councils up to focus their limited resources on finding and rooting out those criminal landlords, operating under the radar, who provide substandard housing and have no place in a modern private rental market.”
Despite many of their homes failing basic health and safety standards, tenants are being charged more and more to live in them.
Rents have risen by 22% since 2010, suggesting that landlords in raking in sizeable profits on homes that, in many cases, are ridden with damp, inadequate heating and unsafe electrics.
Tenants, however, remain fearful of voicing their fears. New figures released by the Ministry of Justice reveal that almost 51,000 private renting households were put at risk of eviction last year – the equivalent of 14 tenants every hour. Bailiffs evicted almost 20,000 households.
According to housing charity Shelter, in 2014, 300,000 tenants were threatened with eviction for highlighting poor conditions in their homes.
While councils now have powers to clamp down on so-called revenge evictions, more than half have never used them.
High costs mean that a significant majority (almost two thirds) of private tenants have no savings or investments, but instead live hand-to-mouth each month, putting many at risk of homelessness if they cannot keep up with rising rents. One in ten renters and one in five single parents are in rent arrears, with cuts to benefits being listed as one of the most common causes.
Almost a third of households say that they struggle to pay their rent each month – a figure that rises to over 50% for single parents and 40% for all families with children. Meanwhile, soaring prices mean that almost a quarter of tenants are now forced to claim housing benefit to help pay their rent, costing the state billions of pounds each year.
As a result, private tenants are now the biggest group of people being made homeless – almost one in three new homelessness cases are renters reaching the end of their tenancy.
Data also shows that tenants are now more likely than ever to be families with children, as homeownership is pushed further and further out of reach. In 2015-16, 37% of those renting privately were families with dependent children – up from 30% a decade earlier.
Campaigners have called on the Government to do more to protect private tenants.
The Director of Communications, Policy and Campaigns at Shelter, Anne Baxendale, claims: “Too many private renters are having to shell out huge chunks of their monthly wages for the privilege of living in grim, damp, mould-riddled flats.
“It’s not uncommon for us to hear from renters who feel powerless and worry they could be evicted if they complain to their landlord, so decide to put up with these poor conditions instead.
“The Government needs to do much more to help private renters, and can start by giving them longer tenancies so they have the clout to complain to landlords without worrying about being thrown out.”
Dan Wilson Craw, the Director of lobby group Generation Rent, continues: “Private renters who live in unsafe homes rely on local council officials to force their landlord to make improvements. Recent changes to the law – to protect such tenants from eviction, and to help councils recover the costs of their enforcement work – have not been fully tested yet, but the deep budget cuts will continue to restrict councils’ capacity to carry out inspections, let alone root out the worst offenders.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government, responds: “While the number of homes failing to meet the Decent Homes Standard has gone down since 2007, we know there’s more to do.
“Our Housing and Planning Act introduced strong measures to crack down on rogue landlords and drive up standards. We’re also looking at further action, set out in our recent Housing White Paper, to improve the decency and safety of rental properties. This includes greater protection for thousands of vulnerable tenants.”
Landlords, we remind you all to act within the law and provide safe, secure and comfortable homes for your tenants. We have a handy and comprehensive range of guides for you to read, which will help you stick to the law: https://www.justlandlords.co.uk/news/guidelines/