High agent fees are discouraging tenants living in unsatisfactory housing conditions from finding alternative accommodation according to the latest report on the Private Rented Sector.
The report published by the English Housing Survey covering April 2014 to March 2015 found that 69% of tenants living in poor quality homes are discouraged from moving out because of agent fees. In addition to complaints about fees, the report also found that private sector renters are less satisfied with their tenure than owner-occupiers and council housing tenants: overall 65% of private renters reported being satisfied with their current tenure compared to 98% of owner occupiers and 82% of social renters.
Important findings of the report include:
- 40% of private rented sector households were charged agency fees in 2014-2015, up from 34% in 2009-2010.
- 18% of private renters said that they felt some of the fees charged were hidden. 65% of private renters reported paying an administration fee
- 33% paid a finders’ fee, 7% of tenants paid a non-returnable holding fee, 5% paid a returnable holding fee and 4% paid an ‘other fee.’
- The number of private renters who lived in non-decent dwellings rose from 1.1 million households in 2006 to 1.2 million households in 2014.
Surprisingly, despite the entry into force of deposit protection legislation in 2007 as part of the 2004 Housing Act, the Housing Survey found that only sixty four per cent of renters with a Assured Shorthold Tenancy reported that their deposit had been protected despite penalties existing for non-compliance with deposit protection rules.
Under deposit protection legislation, landlords must place tenancy deposits in one of three government-backed deposit protection schemes within thirty days of receipt or face a penalty of between one to three times the deposit amount with the penalty value determined by the seriousness and intent of the landlord’s non-compliance deposit rules. In general greater penalties for failing to protect deposits are awarded against experienced landlords or against landlords who have attempted to avoid protecting deposits for financial gain.
Despite charging for protecting deposits being against the spirit of the deposit protection legislation the Renters Alliance has encountered numerous examples of landlords and letting agents charging renters extra fees to protect their deposits. In one landlord’s forum for example, one landlord reported charging £120 for protecting tenants’ deposits recommending to other landlords that they call similar fees “Admin fees” rather than “deposit fees” for legal reasons.
The private rental sector in England has the highest proportion of poor property standards of any tenure type according to a research published in Parliament. This finding follows the 2014/15 English Housing Survey which found that 29% of private rented properties would fail the Government’s decent homes standard for social housing, compared to 14% of social housing.
Despite numerous regulations in the private letting sector which govern repairs and maintenance requirements such as the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, a risk-assessment based regulatory model introduced in 2006, there are effectively no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.
The parliamentary report on the state of housing in England follows recent failed attempts to establish minimum housing criteria such as a Private Member’s Bill proposed by Karen Buck, the member of Parliament for Westminster North.
The proposed Fitness for Human Habitation Bill sought to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation, was adjourned on its second reading debate on 16th October 2015.
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.