Citizens Advice has called for 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.
This follows a survey of landlords and tenants by ComRes on behalf of Citizens Advice showing weak regulation of private renting is leaving hundreds of thousands of tenants living in hazardous homes in England.
Some three quarters (75%) of landlords agreed a single national housing body responsible for setting standards would make their job easier.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Too many private renters live in hazardous homes – often with potentially fatal 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.”
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) criticised Citizens Advice’s recommendation, arguing a national rented housing body would do little to tackle criminal landlords.
David Smith, policy director for the RLA, added: “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.”
Citizens Advice found 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 homes without a carbon monoxide alarm or a faulty one.
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 two 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, Citizens Advice 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.