Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Melissa Robertson

I am thirty-three-years old and have lived in private rented accommodation almost my entire working life. Graduating in 2001 I worked in a series of low paid jobs before finally securing a job with a reasonable, albeit below average, salary. By the time I was ready to purchase a house, prices had spiralled out of my reach. I now have a husband and two-year-old son. It looks like we will be stuck in rented accommodation for the foreseeable future as prices are still too high, which is a separate enquiry entirely of course. Anyway, I would like to offer my views and experiences of the private rented sector.

Quality of Accommodation

I have lived in five different rental properties, of which only one was of an acceptable standard.

I lived in a poky studio flat (all I could afford) with inch gaps on the sash windows and no heating whatsoever. I ended up sticking plastic sheets over the windows to keep the heat from my portable fire in. My next place was bigger, but had old and poorly maintained windows which let the heat from the radiators beneath go straight outside. I have lived in a mouldy, rodent infested, caravan in the middle of a busy engineering yard, for which my husband and I paid £300 cash (no bills/council tax included) to the landlord who could not be bothered to fix things. Once, when the roof leaked my husband had to take the morning off work to help him do it else it would never be done. He laughed when my husband said we had rats and mice until they chewed through the electricity wires. Our current house is mouldy, cold, with a useless and hideously expensive heating system, so we are suffering again. It is hard work to get things sorted. I have given up asking now. As my husband has said—they’re rich, they don’t give a s*** about us.

So yes, the quality of rented housing, in my experience, is far from adequate. Properties should be licensed, fit for habitation, and subject to yearly inspections, with home buyers energy efficiency style reports. Many landlords/agents demand tenants be inspected, why shouldn’t the house be inspected for the tenant’s benefit? Poorly maintained homes with problems such as mould and infestation put tenants health/lives at risk. I know we could report them to environmental health, but I’d be too worried in case we ended up getting evicted for being a nuisance, and our landlord is actually nice to speak to, not at all the threatening type.

Rent Control

Rent control needs to be brought back. I know of lots of people in the rural area where I live who still live in rent controlled houses. We pay £500 per month for ours, where as someone on rent control living in a similar place would likely be paying under £300. If that is what a rent control officer deems fair then obviously we are paying way over the odds. £200 extra a month for us would make such a difference. I don’t know how people in London manage.

As for benefits, I whole-heartedly agree with the caps, but I feel rent control should have come first. Yes, some will be able to move to cheaper areas, but rents have reached such ridiculous heights that I know of one friend who can’t find anywhere around here to rent due to the caps. She has two young children, and their father has left them.

Regulation of Landlords

All Landlords should be licensed and regulated. This should hopefully be enough to put off the vast majority of would-be rogue Landlords. Shelter is a basic need along with food and water. Rogue and even plain incompetent landlords often make people physically unwell due to neglecting their duties to service gas installations, not treating mould, etc. and mental harm by unreasonable rent rises and threats. But the repercussions for operating illegally should be high as I suppose a lot of tenants would be too scared to report someone, and perhaps even afraid of losing their home, even if it is sub-standard.

Licensing should hopefully attract more long-term committed landlords. Part of the reason we have stayed in our current property, even with all the problems, is the fear of ending up with a rogue landlord, or one of these new-age buy-to-letters. Our Landlord at least leaves us alone, lets us have a child, a dog, and put pictures on the wall. They are old-school established Landlords and the house we rent is owned by them outright. I would not want to end up in a place where we had to tip-toe about like we were in a showroom, with inspections, no pets, no pictures, agency fees, and a landlord who would use us an inflation buffer, or evict us after six months because they choose to sell up or can’t afford to pay their mortgage, etc.

Regulation of Letting Agents

I can not see the point of letting agents. What do they do apart from extract a substantial amount of money from tenant and landlord? Luckily I have only had to go through an agent once and the fees were ridiculous. There were credit referring fees, contract fees, and a check-out fee. I don’t think they did anything for me other than tell me who had the keys (neighbour) and giving me the landlord’s number for if I had a problem. I’ve heard of tenants being treated like dirt by letting agents. I did not experience this fortunately, but as a renter you do feel like a second-class citizen.


I have little knowledge of HMOs, so would not be able to comment.

Tenancy Agreements

Tenancy agreements are too much in favour of the Landlord. A typical agreement has so many don’t s that it can severely restrict a person’s freedom/lifestyle choices. As I said, we are lucky that we can have a child, dog, decorate, etc. Basically treat the place as our home, which it is/should be. However, like most we are not allowed to run a business from home. With the growth in the private rented sector and the need for people to be more flexible and creative in terms of employment, clauses like this hamper peoples entrepreneurial aspirations, and ability to find other ways of supplementing their income, for example by becoming a child minder.

The six-month short hold tenancy agreement is dreadful. Although we’ve been here three years now there is always that fear we could be evicted through no fault of our own. Landlords don’t have to give a reason once the six months is up. I know of people forced to uproot on a regular basis. A single mother from the village was forced to move out because the Landlord wanted to move one of their employees in. The same Landlord evicted their tenants so they could renovate the house and triple the rent, forcing the previous tenants to live in a caravan behind a friend’s house. Moving house is such a stressful thing, especially with a family, and to do that regularly is expensive too.

Discharging Homeless Figures

I am not happy about Local Housing Authorities discharging their homeless figures by using the private rented sector. We need more council housing. That is what it was supposed to be for—people in need. We should not be selling off council housing, even on a “right to buy”. I mean, I can’t exercise a right to buy on our rented place using all the rent we’ve already paid as a discount can I? It’s incredibly unfair, especially since many people who would have been eligible for council housing are stuck in unregulated sub-standard private accommodation. No right to buy for them—just high rents and lack of security. Council housing should be for the most needy like the homeless, those who may need lifetime assistance like the disabled, those unable to work due to caring for children/parents, etc. Those who can should be able to buy their own home on the open market or rent from the private sector. Of course this depends on more council housing, and houses that are truly affordable to buy and rent.

My experiences of the private rented sector have not been great. I so desperately want to buy as I want that long-term security, to be able to retire without having to pay rent to a private Landlord, to leave something for our son, etc. I will be very sad if I have to rent for the rest of my life, but if I do I would welcome changes to make the experience better for all. These changes are long, long, overdue.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013