2 Raising awareness, maturing the
8. If the private rented market is to become
more mature, it is important that all parties are aware of their
respective rights and responsibilities. During our visit to Germany,
which has a very mature market, we heard that there was a clear
legal framework, set out in the country's Civil Code, high levels
of awareness of this framework amongst landlords and tenants,
and easy access to advice and information. In this chapter, we
will consider what steps should be taken to reach a similar position
A simpler regulatory framework
9. The first step towards promoting awareness
and understanding must be to have in place a clear and easy-to-understand
regulatory framework. Our evidence suggested that England does
not have such a framework, and concerns were raised about the
complexity and sheer amount of legislation relating to private
rented housing. Richard Lambert, Chief Executive Officer of the
National Landlords Association, was one of a number of witnesses
to point out that there were "over 50 Acts of Parliament,
and over 70 other pieces of delegated legislation" relating
to the sector. Professor
Martin Partington, a former Law Commissioner, stated that housing
law was "but one example of many of policies being developed
over decades, being implemented through myriad legislative enactments,
leaving a mass of often unnecessary, certainly over complex legislation
that does not work efficiently".
10. The complexity of the regulation led some
of those providing evidence to call for a simplification of the
law. One, James Spencer, reflecting on his past experiences as
a renter, said that he would
recommend an exercise like the Tax Law Rewrite project,
which aims to make the law concise and easy to comprehend without
changing the substance of the law.
The City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council
called for "simplification, the removal of overlaps and the
creation of consistency across different pieces of legislation
Professor Partington referred to a 2006 Law Commission report,
Renting Homes, which had argued "that the existing
law should be recast". He explained:
Adoption of the Law Commission's recommendations
would have created a legal framework that was simpler for both
landlords and tenants to understand and more flexible for ministers
and officials to operate.
11. Such a simplified legal framework could include
the introduction of a standard 'plain language' tenancy agreement.
Professor Partington said that the Law Commission's proposals
would have created a system of written tenancy agreements,
drafted in plain language, which would have provided an authoritative
statementbacked by lawof landlords' and tenants'
rights and obligations. The documents could be adapted to accommodate
specific individual circumstances; but the basic core of the document
would reflect the rules that Parliament has laid down. This would
replace the current position where tenancy agreements are often
drafted in extremely opaque legal language and do not reflect
accurately the rights and obligations contained in legislation.
12. In other areas the Government has shown itself
open to a consolidation of regulation. In 2012 Lord Taylor of
Goss Moor conducted an external review of planning guidance, aiming
to reduce dramatically guidance and make it more accessible and
effective. The Government
subsequently consulted on and responded to the review's findings,
and the process is ongoing.
We welcomed this exercise and therefore asked the Housing Minister,
Mark Prisk, whether he would take a similar approach and conduct
a wholesale review of legislation covering the private rented
sector. He said that he was
always happy to talk to industry where we can look
at sensible simplification and consolidation of law [...] Like
a lot of legislation, naturally it tends to have been in response
to a particular event that has driven us as a Parliament to take
an action, and then it steadily builds, like a set of barnacles
on the bottom of a ship. Occasionally you need to clear that off
and have a clear set of rules.
We were pleased by the Minister's willingness to
consider a review of the legislation with regards to tenancy agreements.
13. Efforts to boost understanding of rights
and responsibilities are unlikely to succeed without a clear legal
framework being in place. We
recommend that the Government conduct a wide-ranging review to
consolidate legislation covering the private rented sector, with
the aim of producing a much simpler and more straightforward set
of regulations that landlords and tenants can easily understand.
As part of this review, the Government should work with groups
representing tenants, landlords and agents to bring forward a
standard, plain language tenancy agreement on which all agreements
should be based. There should be a requirement to include landlords'
contact details in tenancy agreements. In
subsequent chapters, we identify some specific changes to regulation
that should be considered as part of the review. In drawing up
our recommendations we have been mindful that the imposition of
additional regulations brings with them additional costs which
could adversely affect the incentives to provide much needed accommodation.
HOUSING HEALTH AND SAFETY RATING
14. One particularly complex area of regulation
is the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) which local
authorities use to assess the health and safety risks present
within a property. Some local authorities expressed support for
the principles behind the HHSRS.
Other evidence, however, raised concerns about its complexity.
Tom Gilchrist, Service Manager for Private Housing and Accessible
Homes at Bristol City Council, said that the hazard rating system
was "a really complicated process". He explained:
It is a risk-based exercise: you look at a property
to identify whether there is a risk there, and what the likely
outcome of that risk would be.[...] There is quite a complicated
mathematical exercise that has to be gone through to establish
whether it is a category 1 hazarda serious hazardor
a less serious category 2 hazard. [...] for most people, that
is quite a complicated thing to get your head around, unless you
are a professional working in the field.
According to the Private Landlords Survey 2010, 85%
of landlords had not heard of the HHSRS.
By implication, we can expect levels of awareness amongst tenants
to be even lower. Even amongst those who supported the HHSRS,
there was a view that the guidance underpinning it should be updated.
We also received evidence that the HHSRS was inconsistent with
other regulations. Bradford Council pointed out that in some instances
planning and building regulations were not consistent with the
It is possible for a housing development to pass
through the planning process and comply with Building Regulations
and yet contain hazards relating to lighting, crowding and space,
noise and falls on stairs. Examples include rooms without windows
and the use of 'pigeon' staircases in loft conversions.
15. The complexity of the HHSRS can be illustrated
by examining the processes for assessing hazards and carrying
out enforcement. When a local authority inspects a property, judgments
about hazards are made by reference to those who, mostly based
on age, would be most vulnerable to the hazard, even if people
in these age groups are not actually living in the property at
the time. However, where a hazard exists but the current occupant
is not identified as vulnerable to the particular hazard, an improvement
notice or prohibition order can be suspended but has to be re-assessed
after a year. Such
nuances are not straightforward and must be difficult for an individual,
part-time landlord to understand.
16. Some evidence called for a new approach to
assessing the quality of private rented housing, although views
varied about what form this approach should take. Some suggested
applying the decent homes standard used in social housing to the
private rented sector, or establishing a variant upon it.
The campaign group Housing Voice said that
a regular 'MOT' style certificate showing that a
property is free of serious hazards and meets a new, minimum decent
homes standard would be a major step forward and ensure more homes
are fit for purpose.
17. Mr Prisk told us that he had heard "diverse
views" about the HHSRS but that it had "not been at
the top of the list of the representations I have received".
Nevertheless, he said that if the Committee had "heard differently"
he would be "more than happy to look at that more carefully".
18. The HHSRS may well be a robust tool to enable
professionals to assess health and safety risks within properties,
but we are concerned that few landlords (and, by implication,
tenants) understand how it works. If we are to expect landlords
to provide housing of a decent standard, and tenants to complain
if it fails to meet this standard, it is important that there
is a straightforward way of assessing whether the standard has
been met. The HHSRS does not achieve this purpose. There is a
strong case for a clear, easy to understand set of standards that
landlords should be expected to meet. We
recommend that the Government consult on the future of the housing
health and safety rating system and the introduction of a simpler,
more straightforward set of quality standards for housing in the
sector. The Government should also ensure that planning and building
regulations are consistent with standards for the quality and
safety of private rented housing.
Awareness and advice
19. Establishing a clear and streamlined legal
framework would, then, be a helpful step towards raising understanding.
Consideration must also be given to getting the message out about
the key points included within the framework. Throughout the inquiry,
we heard concerns that landlords and tenants were not sufficiently
aware of their respective rights and responsibilities.
Grainger plc, a large landlord, told us that "many difficulties
arise in the sector because of lack of understanding among all
parties" and that "a very real positive impact can be
made in the [sector] simply through greater awareness of rights,
responsibilities and best practices among landlords, agents and
number of existing groups, some of which are entirely voluntary,
do an excellent job in providing advice to tenants. It is important
that all tenants know that sources of advice are available and
how they can be accessed.
20. It is not, however, only tenants who need
advice and information. Many landlords are also unaware of their
rights and responsibilities, including those who may have become
landlords accidentally but have chosen to remain in the sector.
The Central Association of Agricultural Valuers stated:
There are those who become landlords "accidentally"
for an interim period, for example as executors of a will or when
managing a property for an elderly relative who has moved into
a nursing home and using letting as an interim measure (to ensure
the property is occupied over a winter, for example). Any proposals
to regulate landlords must acknowledge the position of this group
which is less likely than professional landlords to be aware of
Landlord accreditation schemes (see Chapter 3) play
an important role in providing information and education. Most
landlords are, however, not part of such a scheme.
21. We heard a number of suggestions for how
awareness of rights and responsibilities could be increased. KIS
Lettings, an agency based in the North East, suggested that
every tenant is provided with a mortgage or insurance
policy style Key Fact Sheet outlining in Plain English what they
can expect, by law, from their tenancy and what their landlords
should expect from them in return, along with advice about pathways
of arbitration and redress.
The National Private Tenants Organisations said that
all tenants should be issued with a "tenancy information
pack" based on that introduced in Scotland.
Andrew Cunningham, Chief Executive of Grainger plc, saw merit
in a Government publicity campaign, saying that "the Government
manages to publicise smoke alarms, breathalysers and changing
to digital TV, so I am sure it can publicise landlord and tenant
22. The Dispute Service Ltd suggested that there
was a particular case for greater publicity around deposit protection
requirements. It observed that when The One Show ran a
small item on deposit protection, there was a "huge spike"
in calls to the service's contact centre and those of other deposit
protection schemes, which it said showed "powerfully the
impact which wider publicity can have on consumers".
23. Mr Prisk declared himself "a strong
believer that an effective market works when, in the broadest
sense, the consumer understands exactly what their rights are".
He added that the Government had "published guidance already
in this field, and it is something where we have said to the industry
that we would be happy to support an industryled scheme
to get this across".
AWARENESS AND ADVICE: CONCLUSION
24. The Minister is right to say that the industrythe
various member organisations and regulatory bodieshas an
important role to play in making landlords and tenants aware of
their rights and responsibilities. Given the diverse range of
providers within the sector, however, it may be difficult to identify
a single sector body that can take the lead. We therefore consider
that there is merit in a publicity campaign led and funded by
the Government. We
recommend that, once the review of the legislative framework we
have called for is completed, the Government, working with tenants',
landlords' and agents' groups, establish and help to fund a publicity
campaign to promote awareness of tenants' and landlords' respective
rights and responsibilities. Our recommendation for a wholesale
review of the regulation in the sector provides the obvious platform
on which to base a publicity campaign.
25. As part of this publicity campaign, there
is merit in requiring tenancy agreements to be accompanied by
a fact sheet for tenants, giving a clear statement of their key
rights, what they can expect from their landlord, and where they
can go to seek advice or raise concerns. Indeed, we consider that
a similar document should be provided to landlords. This could
be distributed by lenders to those who apply for a buy-to-let
mortgage, and by local authorities and landlord organisations.
We recommend that the Government bring forward proposals for the
introduction of easy-to-read key fact sheets for landlords and
tenants, and consult on the information these sheets should contain.
The sheets could include links to further information available
online. As a minimum, the sheets should set out each party's key
rights and obligations, and give details of local organisations
to whom they could go for further advice and information. This
fact sheet should be included within the standard tenancy agreement
we propose earlier in this chapter.
15 Q 346; see also, for example, Ev 255, para 5.1
[Paragon Group], Ev w67, para 3.3 [KIS Lettings]. Back
Ev 128, para 2.7 Back
Ev w42, para 4 Back
Ev 259, para 1.4 Back
Ev 130, para 3.13 Back
Ev 130, para 3.14 Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, External
Review of Planning Practice Guidance: Report submitted by Lord
Matthew Taylor of Goss Moor, December 2012 Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, Government response to the external review of government planning practice guidance consultation and report,
May 2013 Back
Q 705 Back
See, for example, Ev w142 [Thanet District Council], Ev w242,
para 10 [Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council]. Back
Q 274 Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, Private Landlords
Survey 2010: Tables, Annex 7.2; see also Q 451 and footnote
[Richard Blakeway]. Back
Ev w242, para 10 [Stockton on Tees Borough Council]; see also
Ev 266, para 20 [Leeds City Council], Ev 144 [Local Government
Ev 259-260, para 3.1.6; Bradford Council provided supplementary
evidence setting out the inconsistencies in more detail: see Ev
Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, Standard Note
SN/SP/1917, House of Commons Library, November 2008; see also
Bournemouth Borough Council, Private Sector Housing Enforcement
Policy, May 2010, pp 8-9 and 10. Back
See, for example, Ev w163 [Digs], Ev w288 [Electrical Safety
Council] and Ev w203 [Hastings Borough Council]. Back
Ev w128, para 2.6 Back
Q 706 Back
See, for example, Ev w126 [Communications Workers Union], Ev
221, para 1.8 [Grainger plc], Ev 307 [Note of meeting with tenants
from Greater London], Ev 307 [note of meeting with tenants in
Leeds], Ev w156, para 3.3 [Broadway Homelessness and Support]. Back
Ev 221, para 1.8 Back
Ev w120, para 7.3 Back
Ev w68, para 5.3 Back
Ev 151, para 6.4.2 Back
Q 334 Back
Ev w63, para 3.1; see also, for example, Ev 222-223, para 3.11
[Grainger plc], Ev 181, para 37 [Office of Fair Trading]. Back
Q 698 Back