Refund rights needed for private renters
Citizens Advice says private renters should get their money back when the home they’re paying rent for is dangerously uninhabitable.
In its new Renting uncovered report the national charity calls for rent repayment orders to be extended to cover private tenants whose homes are structurally unsound, have unsafe wiring or are riddled with damp and mould.
Rent repayment orders already exist for when a landlord rents out a multiple occupancy property without the right license.
In the last year Citizens Advice helped private tenants with almost 17,000 issues around struggling to get problems fixed in their home. This is up five per cent on the previous year. One in three private rented homes does not meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard.
Renting uncovered finds that people are more protected when they hire a taxi, lease a car or even buy a toaster than when they rent their home from a private landlord. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 enshrined in law that goods people purchase must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose.
This year the Consumer Rights Bill will be an important step further strengthening people’s rights under an updated single piece of legislation. By contrast renters have to navigate six separate complex pieces of legislation to seek legal redress from their private landlord.
In December Citizens Advice launched its new Settled and safe: a renter’s right campaign, calling for better protections for private renters. In the last year more than 80,000 people came to Citizens Advice suffering with a problem with a privately rented home. Common issues include illegal eviction and harassment, lost deposits and struggles to secure the most basic repairs.
Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
"Renters’ rights are stuck in the dark ages. These days people rightly expect to get their money back if something the pay for is not up to scratch. Private renters can end up thousands of pounds out of pocket when they are let a home which turns out to be unfit to live in. We’re calling for a system which provides people with a refund if a private rented home doesn’t meet the most basic standards like safe electrics and being structurally sound.
"People face a huge number of different housing problems. As the private rented sector continues to expand renting issues will affect more and more people. There are over nine million renters in England, and it’s time their rights are brought up to modern standards. Renters need to be granted the same protections as other consumers: repairs that get done and refunds when things go badly wrong."
Private tenants do have statutory rights to a safe home in good repair. But in practice many face substantial barriers to having these rights upheld:
- Risk of retaliatory eviction. We know that many private tenants are evicted from their homes after complaining to their landlord about problems with the property. In 2013 over 200,000 people were unfairly evicted from their home in this way.
- Complexity. Seeking redress or taking court action against a landlord can be a long, complicated and expensive process.
- Local Authority capacity. Complaints about a private rented property often need to be made to local authorities. But many struggle with capacity and research has shown that local prosecution is a lengthy and complex process with fines varying between areas.
In January MPs will vote on the De-regulation Bill, which includes an amendment which will effectively ban retaliatory evictions. This will go some way to ensuring that the legal rights of tenants are enforceable.
Notes to editors:
- 1.Renting uncovered compares the rights of consumers with the rights of private tenants. It finds:
- a.Consumers have stronger rights to repair when leasing a car than renting a flat. If a car leased under a long-term rental agreement turns out to be in unacceptable condition, there is a right to reject within 30 days; a right to a repair and then refund if a fault develops within six months; and a right to a partial refund if a fault develops within six years. By contrast, while there are statutory obligations on landlord to repair a fundamental fault in a rented property, a landlord can evict a tenant with a Section 21 Notice if they pursue these rights to repair.
- b.Consumers have far stronger refund rights when paying for a consumer good than when paying for a flat. Faulty consumer electronics are eligible for a full refund. But if a rented house quickly turns out to be dangerously uninhabitable, a tenant is not eligible for a refund even on paper. In theory, a tenant could follow the actions in the Pre-Action Protocol for Housing Disrepair Cases, and then sue their landlord for damages. But any tenant attempting this on a periodic tenancy would be at risk of eviction through a Section 21 notice.
- c.Taxi drivers are more tightly governed than landlords. Taxi service operators are required by law to hold an operator and vehicle license, requiring both to meet clear standards, including the driver passing a ‘fit and proper person’ test. In many councils this includes undertaking a criminal record check. The vast majority of landlords face no test (unless the Local Authority has introduced their own selective licensing scheme).
- This year the Citizens Advice service celebrates its 75th anniversary. We’ve planned a year of activity running from January to December 2014. Contact the press office on 03000 231 080, or via email at email@example.com, to find out more.
- The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
- The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
- To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
- You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
- Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.6 million problems from April 2012 to March 2013. For full 2012/2013 service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
- Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 22,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.