60% of renters in London live in unacceptable conditions according to a survey carried out by YouGov and the housing charity Shelter.
The survey of 739 private renters in London between 13th June and 22nd July 2015 found that around 60%, equivalent to around 1.5 million Londoners, have experienced problems in the past year. According to the survey with vermin and damp commonly reported problems were found to be:
- Damp or mould (39% of renters)
- Poor insulation or excess cold (26%)
- Animal infestations such as mice and cockroaches (25%)
- Problems with a leaking roof or windows (18%).
In addition to poor disrepair, a significant fraction of renters had experienced unsafe conditions with 14% reporting electrical problems and 15% living in homes which are poorly secured. Most worrying were the 3% of renters who reported gas leaks. According to the English Housing Survey 2013/14, 16.5 per cent of private rented homes fail the Government’s minimum standard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
The poor state of rental housing stock in the capital stands in stark contrast the the cost of rented accommodation with the average London renter paying just under 60% of their income on rent.
The seriousness of the rental crisis in the capital and across the country as a whole has led renters rights groups to campaign for the introduction of greater council powers to address disrepair in the private rental sector.
Other proposed initiatives include the establishment of landlord licensing to better protect renters from rogue landlords and letting agents. Landlord and property licencing is currently mandatory for large HMOs (homes in multiple occupation) although there are calls to extend this regime to all HMOs irrespective of size and to other private rented accommodation.
The lack of resources available to local authorities to deal with housing disrepair in the private letting sector was exposed yesterday in the House of Lords.
According to the Liberal Democrat Baroness Bakewell, housing complaints totaled 62,818 in 2012-13 which resulted in only 31,634 inspections by local authorities. Astoundingly, only 1,645 improvement notices were served over the same period. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, crowding and space, falling hazards and fire. The powerlessness of many renters is exacerbated by out-of-date legislation whereby tenants can take action themselves only if their rent is less than £80 a year in London and £52 a year elsewhere.
These findings come as 11 million people now live in private rented accommodation in England, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set for further increases.
The Baroness claims that Parliamentary research indicated that 30% of private rented properties in England would fail the Government’s decent homes standard. This is almost double the 15% in the social rented sector. Also, despite having the lowest average property standards, the private rental sector is the most expensive housing option. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% of the income for those in the social rented sector.
The Baroness’ comments were made during a committee reading of the Housing and Planning Bill which would establish a database of rogue landlords and letting agents and strengthen the enforcement of pre-existing legislation in the private rental sector among other measures.
Karen Buck, the Member of Parliament for Westminster North has announced that only 14,000 of a total of 51,316 complaints made to councils about poor housing were subjected to a local authority environmental health assessment in 2014. Ms Buck, has also claimed that on average councils prosecuted only one rogue landlord each year.
The figures were presented in a debate about standards in the Private Rented Sector on February 6th during which Ms Buck asked whether the statistics provided irrefutable evident that local authorities lack the resources to investigate cases of housing disrepair.
On being asked what measured the Government proposes to adopt to tackle rogue landlords, the Government’s Minister for Housing and Planning, Brandon Lewis, claimed that enabling councils to issue civil penalties amounting to up to £30,000 and remedy payment orders for up to 12 months proposed under the Housing and Planning Bill would give councils extra resources to improve housing conditions.
Also participating in the debate was the Labour Member for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiqm who claimed that many of his constituents who rent privately have reported being the victim of revenge evictions despite the banning of retaliatory eviction in 2015.
Omnia Strategy, the legal firm founded and chaired by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Blair, has written a formal complaint to HMRC proposing a judicial review of Chancellor George Osborne’s restrictions of deductions of finance costs related to residential property.
The new tax changes, set to be implemented in the autumn of 2017 would limit the ability of landlords operating as sole traders to offset mortgage interest payments from their tax liabilities.
The decision to seek a legal challenge to the Chancellor’s tax changes comes as a formal petition set up by the Residential Landlord’s Association failed to reach the required number of 100,000 signatures to be considered for debate in Parliament.
The legal challenge to the Chancellor’s proposed tax measures was brought by Steve Bolton and Chris Cooper who raised £50,000 in crowd-funding from landlords’ associations to initiate a legal challenge to George Osborne’s tax changes.
Mr Bolton owns around 20 residential and commercial properties is also the founder and owner of Platinum Property Partners, a buy-to-let specialist with a portfolio worth a total of £200million. Mr Cooper is a part-time landlord who is using buy-to-let as part of his pension.
The letter to HMRC lists Miss Blair as one of two legal advisers for the claimants and bases the challenge on several purported breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. The letter claims that the Chancellor’s measures infringe on one’s right to hold one’s property in a way without unfair taxation and may also go against European Union competition laws by favoring large institutions over small individual investors.
In it’s official response to the petition, the Government has claimed that the tax changes remove tax advantages enjoyed by property investors which are not available to those investing in other asset classes.