Ahead of the local elections, Generation Rent is calling on councils to commit to serving improvement notices every time they find a dangerous private rented home.
Generation Rent believes such action will help to drive out criminal landlords and raise the quality of homes for local renters.
The organisation points out that local authorities in England are responsible for enforcing safety standards in private rented homes. If a severe ‘Category 1’ hazard is found on an inspection, the council can serve the landlord with an improvement notice, which compels them to make repairs. This prevents the landlord from serving the tenant with a retaliatory no-fault eviction for six months. If the landlord fails to act on an improvement notice, the council can fine or prosecute them, and the tenant can apply for a Rent Repayment Order.
Generation Rent made Freedom of Information requests to 110 councils representing around two-thirds of the private renter population in England regarding their enforcement activity in 2019-2020. Of the councils that responded, 76 recorded 11,570 Category 1 hazards in private rented homes. These councils served only 2,814 improvement notices, representing 24.3% of hazards found, and leaving thousands of tenants without the protections they are entitled to.
The figure was similar the year before, at 24.6%, although it was improved from 20.5% in 2017-2018.
A poll of 1,008 private renters, conducted by Survation in February 2021, indicates there is little confidence in their council taking appropriate action. 35% said they would contact the council if their landlord had failed to fix something, but 44% said they would look for somewhere else to live. Generation Rent is therefore calling on councils to improve the way they communicate with local renters, to raise awareness of their rights and how the council can help.
The use of landlord licensing could make it easier for tenants to request inspections. It could also make it easier for councils to stop landlords from operating and seize unsafe properties. However, only 55 councils have licensing schemes that cover more properties than the legal minimum, and only 10 of those have applied to the Government to introduce schemes that cover more than 20% of the local rental market. Generation Rent is also calling on councils without licensing schemes to introduce them.
Alicia Kennedy, Director of Generation Rent, comments: “Things have to get pretty bad before the council comes around to inspect a problem property and criminal landlords will try anything to avoid doing work.
“Inaction by councils serves only to discourage renters from reporting safety problems, and to embolden landlords who cut corners. With no council support, tenants move out, and because so many people are desperate for a home, the landlord has no difficulty in finding a new victim.
“Budgets are tight, and there’s no question the government must provide more funding to drive out criminal landlords. But there are councils already doing the right thing across the country and these elections are a chance to elect councillors who will champion renters’ interests and adopt good practices to keep their homes safe.”