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Hazardous homes - hundreds of thousands of private renters living in unsafe properties

26 June 2019

Weak regulation of private renting is leaving hundreds of thousands of tenants living in hazardous homes in England, research by Citizens Advice has revealed.

A survey of landlords and tenants conducted by ComRes on behalf of Citizens Advice revealed many landlords don’t know or understand their legal obligations, while renters aren’t aware of their rights or don’t feel able to enforce them.

It means many tenants live in homes with health-affecting hazards such as mould or dangerous problems such as not working or missing smoke or carbon monoxide alarms.

The charity wants a national housing body for private renting to set standards, which could include creating a home “MOT”, setting a “fit-and-proper-person” test for landlords and standardising rental contracts.

Some three quarters (75%) of landlords agree a single national housing body responsible for setting standards would make their job easier.

The report, Getting the house in order, found that landlords aren’t meeting obligations on repair that they are responsible for.

Three in five tenants (60%) identified disrepair in their home in the last 2 years that was not caused by them and that their landlord was responsible for fixing.

One in six (15%) said the disrepair was a major threat to their health and safety.

Almost one in three tenants (32%) said their house did not have a carbon monoxide alarm despite requiring one. This affects around 900,000 homes.

In its survey of landlords, research found about a quarter of landlords failed to make sure there’s a smoke alarm on each floor of all of their properties (25%).

The same number failed to carry out an annual gas safety check or make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms were working (26%).

At the same time, almost one in three landlords (31%) said they find it difficult to keep up with rules and regulations. Just half (49%) did not know the potential penalty (a fine of up to £5,000) for not checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are in working order on the first day of the tenancy. The same proportion didn’t know the penalty for not carrying out a gas safety check.

One renter came to Citizens Advice for help because a leaky roof in her building meant rain was dripping into her young child’s bedroom, causing mould. She said her child’s health was being affected by the hazard but that after two years of going around in circles her landlord had still not fixed the problem.

The government has made reforms in the private rented sector in recent years, such as laws to ensure all rented homes are fit to be lived in, banning most tenant fees, and proposed the abolition of “no-fault” section 21 evictions.

However, renters lack the power they need to ensure standards are consistent, and landlords and tenants lack the knowledge they need for standards to be upheld.

Citizens Advice helped almost 60,000 people with issues related to private renting last year. One in four (24%) had issues getting repairs completed and more than 2,500 were being harassed by their landlord.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Too many private renters live in hazardous homes - often with dangerous flaws.

“Weak and confusing regulation means landlords can struggle to understand their legal obligations, while tenants find it hard to get problems in their homes resolved.

“The government must establish a national housing body to ensure landlords let property that meet legal standards, and gives renters the support they need when they don’t.”

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice includes the national charity; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.
  2. Citizens Advice is the statutory consumer advocate for energy and post. We provide supplier performance information to consumers and policy analysis to decision makers.
  3. The Citizens Advice Witness Service provides free, independent support for prosecution and defence witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
  4. Citizens Advice offers Pension Wise services at 500 locations in England and Wales.
  5. Citizens Advice’s services are free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to all regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  6. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  7. For consumer advice, call the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 to talk in Welsh.
  8. We helped 2.6 million people face to face, by phone, email and webchat in 2017-18. For service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.
  9. Citizens Advice staff are supported by over 23,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 locations in England and Wales.