Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by [***] Name redacted.

The Quality of Private Rented Housing

I have been a tenant in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) for approximately ten years and have lived in four different two bedroom flats in North London with my husband and two children over the past seven years.

Our personal experiences are as follows:

Upon moving in to one flat, we were met by a cockroach infestation which took weeks for the managing agents to clear.

Several of the flats that we have lived in were so poorly maintained and had such inadequate heating that we had to buy electric heaters to keep warm in the winter months (and these are very expensive to run). One room in a particular flat was so cold that we could not use it for most of the winter months as even the electric heater could not heat it up.

None of the flats we have lived in were we allowed to decorate (even put up small pictures) without the express approval by our landlord (and in two of the flats, we were told we couldn’t do this at all). We had to deal with old, tatty and dangerous fixtures and fittings, a broken and smelly washing machine which the landlord refused to fix and wallpaper covered in mould and peeling which the landlord refused to fix.

In our current rental flat, neither the single pane windows or doors closed properly upon moving in, so we had to spend our own money sanding the doors so that they would close (our landlord has repeatedly ignored our requests to fix them). The windows still do not open or close properly and we have water streaming down the windows every morning during the winter months due to condensation. We have black mould and pooling water on the window sills which needs to be wiped off daily. This obviously affects the health of me and my children, one of which has very bad asthma which has been exacerbated by the mould and damp. The walls of our toilet are stained with water from where the flat above us had a leak. Our landlord has not done anything about this.

…And steps that can be taken to Ensure that all Housing in the Sector is of an Acceptable Standard

In my opinion, these are just some of the steps that need to be taken to ensure an acceptable standard in the PRS (private rented sector):

All privately rented properties should be subject to the same kind of quality standard and checks as those in the social rented sector. Private rentals should have regular inspections by appointed officers, as to whether they are suitable for human habitation and whether the landlord is fulfilling his legal duties in terms of the rental contract.

It should be compulsory for landlords to register on a National database and proof of registration should be a requirement before tenants sign a tenancy agreement. Letting Agents should have to provide proof that they have confirmed the landlords of their properties are properly registered on such a database.

A national database of landlords could also be used by HMRC to ensure that they are all paying the correct tax on rental income. It would make subletting and other housing fraud more difficult to operate.

Landlords whose properties are dirty, dangerous and do not comply with the necessary health and safety rules should be subject to fines, bans and prison sentences depending on the severity of abuse.

It is mindboggling that Rachmanism is thriving and encouraged by the political classes in 2013 UK. We seem to be going backwards as far as living standards are concerned.

Levels of Rent within the Private Rented SectorIncluding the Possibility of Rent Control and the Interaction between Housing Benefit and Rents

Private rent levels in London are extortionate and pay no relation to the quality or size of the property for rent. As a family we have seen our rent increase markedly over the past three years, yet the quality of rentals on offer seems to have decreased. When we have visitors from Berlin, they are shocked not only at the cost of renting in London but also how small properties are in comparison to their rent, how little security of tenure we have and how bad the quality of rentals tend to be.

The proliferation of buy-to-let has been extremely damaging to the fabric of this country, with rich investors buying up properties that in the past would be available for first time buyers. These “investors” have no special skills, they were just lucky enough to be able to buy at a time when properties were affordable. This has disincentivized hard work and career progression (why work when you can get the same income from buying property?) and has encouraged speculation and greed that are partially responsible for the financial crisis.

If London (and the UK in general) is going to switch to a rental culture, then the UK needs to adopt European style rental laws which give maximum security to tenants, reintroduction of rent controls and rent increases are strictly regulated and tenants are not merely seen as “cash cows” to fund the pensions of the rich but are allowed to make their rented property feel like home (being able to decorate without the landlord saying “no”). At the moment London/UK tenants have the worst of all worlds—some of the highest rents in Europe with some of the most badly maintained property, minimal security of tenure and lack of tenancy rights.

A study of the rental market in cities like Berlin and New York will show you that they work very well and discourage greed and speculation and pernicious housing bubbles. In Berlin, tenants have very good security of tenure, properties are required to be maintained to a minimum standard before they can be rented and of course there are strict rent controls which mean tenants are treated as human beings rather than cash cows. Bringing the Berlin blueprint to London would bring equilibrium to a market which is currently stacked highly in favour of landlords.

Regulation of Landlords, and Steps that can be taken to Deal with Rogue Landlords

There should be a national register of private landlords and all landlords should be required to be registered by law. This allows those that break the law or abuse their tenants to be easily identified and dealt with. It also ensures that HMRC can identify those making money from their properties and ensure the correct amount of tax is being paid on rental income.

Rogue landlords should face the full weight of the law, and should be subject to fines, bans (from letting property) and criminal charges if necessary.

Regulation of Letting Agents, Including Agents’ Fees and Charges

Letting Agents should be regulated and licensed with strict rules relating to their code of practice. Fees and charges should either be payable solely by the landlord or should be fixed at a maximum rate by the Housing Regulator. At the moment tenants are helpless victims of unscrupulous Letting Agents who exploit poor and vulnerable tenants with exaggerated charges and arbitrary costs which bear no resemblance to the true costs of their services. Charges are not transparent and tenants have no route to challenge or dispute them. Tenants often have little or no choice but to pay these charges if they want to secure accommodation, which amounts to blackmail. Most tenants pay enough in rent without being forced to pay Letting Agents for dubious charges and fees.

Rogue Letting Agents should face the full weight of the law, and should be subject to fines, bans (from letting property) and criminal charges if necessary.

The Regulation of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), Including the Operation of Discretionary Licensing Schemes Imposed by a Local Authority for a Category of HMO in its Area

I do not know very much about this area but I think there should be a maximum number of rooms that can be converted into bedrooms in a single property and these rooms should have a minimum space, quality and safety requirement. There are laws in the UK relating to the treatment of animals and even poultry farmers are required to give their livestock certain rights, in terms of space and hygiene, shouldn’t human tenants be offered the same rights?

Landlords of HMO should be licensed and their properties inspected regularly.

Tenancy Agreements and Length and Security of Tenure

Tenancy agreements in the UK (most commonly Assured Shorthold Tenancies) are woefully inadequate in terms of tenants’ rights.

The most important change that needs to be made in the PRS is security of tenure. Tenants have just two months security of tenure and can be evicted after this even if they have done nothing wrong. This is extremely stressful and costly to families (like us).

Tenants in the PRS should have the same security of tenure as those in the social rented sector and evictions should be the very last possibility for landlords and only in extreme circumstances. Once again, the example of tenancy laws in Berlin should set an example of how tenants should be treated in the UK.

Tenants have few rights in terms of making their rental properties feel like their home and in many cases are not even allowed to hang pictures, so, landlords get the best of both worlds, with bumper rents whilst being able to dictate how their tenants live, whilst tenants get little respect or humanity from their landlord and the system.

How Local Authorities are Discharging their Homelessness Duty by being able to place Homeless Households in Private Sector Housing

At the moment, due to the short-sightedness of both past and present governments deciding it is better to line the pockets of rich landlords with taxpayers’ money, rather than use this money wisely to build thousands of social homes which would generate a profit in the long run for council/taxpayer whilst housing thousands of families currently stuck in the private rented sector and defusing the housing problem. Instead, the need to use private landlord because of the shortage of social housing, ensures that the only winner is the landlord and the taxpayer, tenant and country have to pay for this misuse of money.

January 2013

1 Name redacted.

Prepared 16th July 2013