Complicated housing regulations mean landlords are not clear on their responsibilities and tenants don’t know their rights, leaving some living with health-affecting hazards, says a report from Citizens Advice.
The report lists households forced to put up with mould and piles of rubbish, carbon monoxide poisoning, and one case where a landlord was making his tenant pay an extra £20 every time she topped up her electricity and gas prepay card.
Nine out of ten tenants didn’t know whether a responsibility was theirs or their landlord’s. And one in four landlords did not know the potential consequences of failing to act. One in three landlords admitted not being able to keep up with changing housing regulations.
Almost a quarter of tenants (22%) spend their own money fixing problems.
The charity’s report, Getting the House in Order, suggested a national housing body responsible for standards and enforcement could be the answer.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy 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.”
Last year, the charity helped almost 60,000 renters in the private rented sector. One in four had problems getting repairs completed, and more than 2,500 were being harassed by their landlord.
CIEH was supportive of the suggestions with the caveat that local authorities still play a central role. CIEH policy manager Tamara Sandoul said: “Minimum standards in the private rented sector could help to make the obligations of landlords and the rights and expectations of tenants much clearer.
“However, we know that minimum standards may not be able to cover every type of hazard, which environmental health professionals will find in rented housing. Local authorities still have a role to play to investigate and prosecute rogue landlords and protect the most vulnerable tenants from dangerous housing conditions.
“This is why any system of minimum standards also needs an aspect of risk assessment to cover any unusual defects in housing and enable action to be taken.”
However, the Residential Landlords Association argued that a national body for housing standards was not the answer as it would not tackle criminal landlords, which is where it believed the real problems lie. RLA policy director David Smith said: “There are already well over 150 laws containing 400 regulations affecting the private rented sector. The powers are already there for councils to tackle and root out criminal landlords who cause misery for their tenants.
“What is lacking are both the will and the resources to properly use them. We fail to see how establishing a new body of this kind will help to address this.”