Analysis of property tribunals reveals dire conditions for HMO tenants

Over 100 cases show landlords fined for leasing a property without an HMO licence
03 November 2022 , By Katie Coyne

Renters Reform bill is welcomed to increase powers of Local Authorities, but greater resourcing is needed

Dire housing conditions including raw sewage leaking into the living room, bed bug infestations, and missing smoke or fire alarms, have been exposed by a Guardian newspaper investigation.

The newspaper’s investigation team said it analysed 250 documents from first-tier property tribunals for tenants in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and uncovered a swathe of appalling conditions.

Reporters also discovered 129 cases where landlords were fined for leasing a property without an HMO licence, and housing charity groups warned that it was difficult to know the true number of illegal HMOs.

Homeless charity Shelter published a report earlier this year that found one in six people were forced to accept poor conditions as the only option available, dealing with mould (42%), broken boilers (31%), pests (14%), and electrical hazards (11%). It advocates strengthening tenants’ rights so they can challenge bad landlords and poor conditions without fear of eviction.

The government’s proposed reforms including its housing White Paper have been broadly welcomed, though there have been concerns over its yo-yoing over scrapping Section 21, no-fault evictions.

Dan Wilson Craw, Deputy Director of campaign group, Generation Rent,  said it was hugely positive that the Renters Reform bill planned to introduce an ombudsman and beef up powers for local authorities to enforce existing laws. However, he said: “We will need a lot more resourcing for local authorities to use the powers they have. That’s one of the problems we have had for years”.

Craw added that plans to introduce a property portal were potentially “revolutionary” but there remained the question over enforcement and what consequences a landlord will face if they don’t register. Generation Rent would like to see rent repayment orders applicable to situations where landlords don’t register with the portal.  

“[Reforming the private rented sector] will look much like the challenge of outrunning a hurricane.”

Roz Spencer, Head of Service at Safer Renting said: “The government's housing White Paper has a big job to do if it is to live up to the manifesto promise to reform the private rented sector and it will look much like the challenge of outrunning a hurricane.

Safer Renting provides advocacy for tenants victimised by criminal landlords. Spencer said illegal eviction is a crime that is “routinely” used by criminal landlords to conceal the appalling conditions tenants are forced to pay for.

She said illegal evictions were routinely allowed to happen without enforcement consequences because no authority has a duty to intervene or prosecute, and there is no reliable public data about prevalence. Spencer said this, “gives the clear impression to all that 'it doesn't count'.

Spencer added: “The well-known physical health consequences of living in cold, damp, infested and insanitary conditions are being made worse by a rise in the mental health impacts that follow when tenants know they can be thrown out of their home by a lock change and dumping all their possessions on the street.

This is the ultimate theft, that steals a person's home and robs them forever of a sense of security and of their well being.

Neither the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) or the British Landlords Association (BLA) responded to requests for comment.  

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