Evaluating consumer protections in the private rental sector
In most aspects of our lives as consumers, we assume that the goods and services we buy or rent will be safe and functional. If they do not work as promised, they will be repaired or our money will be refunded. For private renters, however, the same basic expectations do not apply. The condition of a rented apartment can be substandard or even unsafe, yet it can be difficult or impossible to have repairs made. Refunds rarely apply at all. As more and more people find themselves renting privately over the long-term, this shortfall in rights is becoming all the more apparent.
In this briefing note we summarise the rights of private renters regarding safety and repairs in their homes and compare these with the rights of repairs, and the rules governing safety and standards, in other consumer goods and services.
Overall, the note shows starkly that, while private tenants do have statutory rights to a safe home in good repair, they face substantial barriers to having these rights upheld in practice. The risk of retaliatory eviction by the landlord, a lack of Local Authority capacity to deal with the problem and, in most of the country, a lack of any regime to license landlords, means tenants' rights have no bite. These differences lead to a strange imbalance in consumer protections. In many ways, people are now better protected when buying a toaster than when renting a flat, while taxi drivers are more tightly governed than the landlords who let - and have access to - our homes. Giving tenants a better deal in the private rented sector will mean fixing these historical anomalies. This means considering:
- How rights to repair could be better applied for private renters, in particular by ending the risk of retaliatory eviction.
- How refund rights could give tenants money back when a rented property quickly turns out to be dangerously uninhabitable, for example by extending rent repayment orders to category 1 or 2 hazards.
- How local licensing could be used to stop the worst offending landlords in the same way licensing is used to stop unhygienic restaurants or unsafe taxi operators.