Private landlords profit from unsafe homes

The number of households living in privately rented accommodation has doubled in the last decade to 18%, the highest in 30 years, and growing. Many are working class households, hit hard by the destruction of social housing. The private rented sector now has a larger share of people in poverty (39%) than the social rented sector (33%). Ten years ago, more than half of those in poverty lived in social housing (London’s Poverty Profile 2015). At the same time, nearly a third of all private rental properties – 1.3 million homes – fall below the government’s decent homes minimum standard. Wilful neglect by unscrupulous landlords has created 740,000 homes that are physically unsafe; those affected include 510,000 children and 180,000 disabled people.

A report by the New Policy Institute and Citizens Advice* reveals that by 2012:

  • 16% of privately rented homes presented ‘a severe threat to health or safety’. Nearly one in ten was blighted by serious damp, with walls turned black by mould, infested with mites and posing a serious risk of respiratory illnesses, especially to children.
  • 10% posed a risk of a dangerous fall;
  • 13% failed to provide the required level of warmth, with 6% defined as excessively cold.

Citizens Advice has received an increasing number of complaints about the poor condition of privately rented accommodation. One woman in Lincolnshire, for instance, reported on several occasions that her landlord had refused to fix a faulty boiler, leaving her home unheated. The inevitable damp and mould exacerbated two of her three children’s asthma. Another in west London, who was paying £900 a month in rent and bills, had her persistent calls to replace dangerous windows ignored and was left to cope in freezing temperatures. Other examples in the report revealed people, including pregnant women, forced to sleep in their living rooms because of the amount of damp and mould in their bedrooms. Infestations of vermin have also been reported.

Overcrowding is also an increasing problem in the private housing sector. Recently, 26 people were found living in a three-bedroom Newham home, collectively paying their shameless landlord £2,340 a month (The Guardian, 25 June 2015). At least seven were stuck subsisting in the property’s windowless basement, with the ventilation covered by duct tape and the internal door to the house locked. Around 50% of private rented properties in Newham are reported to be overcrowded, amongst the highest in London.

Compounding the misery, a report by Shelter has found that around 125,000 private tenants in England have suffered abuse from landlords in the form of harassment, threats and assault. The housing charity has heard from renters whose landlords have cut off utilities, entered their homes without permission, evicted them illegally and, in some cases, even burned their possessions. Shelter also found that more than 200,000 renters a year were facing ‘revenge evictions’, where landlords move to seek repossession simply because a tenant complains that they have not dealt adequately with a complaint about housing conditions. A law against revenge evictions was finally passed in May, having been filibustered when it was first proposed in October 2014 by two Conservative politicians, themselves private landlords.

Barney Phillips

* A nation of renters: how England moved from secure family homes towards rundown rentals, New Policy Institute and Citizens Advice, May 2015.

FRFI 247 October/November 2015


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