One in five households now lives in private rented accommodation, with renting becoming an increasingly long-term prospect for many tenants. The vast majority of private rented tenants are satisfied with the quality of their homes. However, our inquiry has focused on the lower end of the market: the 800,000 private rented homes that have at least one Category One hazard, such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring; the 44% of tenants who said a fear of retaliatory eviction would stop them from making a complaint to their landlord; and the 200,000 tenants who reported having been abused or harassed by a landlord.
The main conclusions and recommendations are as follows:
There is a clear power imbalance in parts of the sector, with tenants often unwilling to complain to landlords about the conditions in their homes for fear of retaliation. Consumer rights are meaningless without the ability to use them in practice.
The legislative framework, through which local authorities derive their powers to intervene in the sector, is outdated and too complex. A new approach is required, to bring more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.
While prosecution statistics may not reflect the informal enforcement work undertaken by many local authorities, it is nevertheless striking that six out of 10 councils had not prosecuted a single landlord in 2016. While the Government has introduced a range of legislation in recent years to strengthen protections for tenants and new powers for local authorities – including civil penalties and banning orders for criminal landlords – these powers are meaningless if local authorities do not, or cannot, enforce them in practice.
While local authorities have welcomed their new powers to retain civil penalties and rent repayment orders, some felt this did not go far enough. Local authorities that pursue more informal enforcement strategies are unlikely to generate significant funding through civil penalties. Further, many councils told us there was often a financial disincentive to pursue prosecutions against criminal landlords, as the costs of investigations were rarely recovered through the courts.
We heard that some local authorities lacked the political will to address low standards in the sector. To make the best use of limited resources, local authorities need to work together more effectively and share best practice.
We heard that there was a need for more robust penalties to deal with the worst, criminal landlords. Civil penalties are not strong enough to deter landlords who are prepared to commit the most serious offences.
We received mixed evidence on the value of selective licensing schemes, reflecting the different circumstances that exist in different parts of the country. We believe that the current process of application to the Secretary of State is too slow, lacks transparency, and is overly bureaucratic and unduly expensive.
Published: 19 April 2018