The all-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which I chair, has been conducting an inquiry into the state of the private rented housing sector which now houses nearly 20% of all households. 1 .
Renting privately is becoming an increasingly long-term, even life-time, prospect for many individuals and families. Most private tenants are satisfied with the quality of their homes. However, at the lower end of the market, 800,000 homes that have at least one Category One hazard, such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.
Nearly half of tenants fear retaliation – for example, eviction, rent increases or harassment - if they made a complaint to their landlord. 200,000 tenants report having been abused or harassed by a landlord.
That simply cannot be right. Tenants need additional protections from retaliatory action by the worst landlords, so that they can pursue complaints about the repair and maintenance of their homes. Further, it is time for a review and consolidation of private rented sector legislation. Similarly, we need straightforward quality standards to bring more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.
Although in a minority, there are some dreadful landlords. I have personally visited some houses and flats providing the most awful living conditions for families with young children. Locally, we have recently seen court action against some of our local villains. Yet, six out of 10 councils did not prosecute a single landlord in 2016.
Some landlords appear to think that fines are just a business cost, easily offset against the massive rent income they are receiving for over-crowded and badly managed and maintained properties.
Councils do not have sufficient resources to undertake their enforcement duties, as the costs of investigations and prosecutions can rarely be recovered through the courts. They should be funded to do this work. For the worst persistent offenders, councils should have the power to confiscate properties from the landlords.
Some areas have selective licensing schemes, but the processes are too slow, lacks transparency, is overly bureaucratic and unduly expensive. These decisions should be made locally, not nationally by a government minister.
It’s now time for the government to act It has just a few weeks to make up its mind.