Landlords in the UK may soon find it easier to track renters’s private social media content using software developed by a UK startup. The company, Score Assured, uses a program to scan prospective tenants’ social media profiles and private posts to record information such as relationship and family status. Also recorded are key words such as “no money,” “poor” and “staying in” which the company claims may indicate how reliable a tenant may be in maintaining rent payments.
The company’s co-founder, Steve Thornhill, has rejected claims that the program breaches privacy laws saying that the software is more innocent than it appears. “It’s about giving the tenant more opportunity to get the property they want,” he says. “A lot of people now, millennials, for example, don’t have credit scores — so how they can get a property when the answer from the traditional credit score is going to be no?”
Supporters of the program claim that a tenant must consent to a landlord running the program on their social media profiles before it can be used. Thornhill claims that such consent means that the program, Tenant Assured, is no different from a traditional credit check.
Others say that often tenants have no other option than to accept the download of their social media information to secure a property and hence tenants will be forced to accept an invasion of their privacy. Also consumer protection laws regulate credit checks because of their potentially large impact on consumers. Regulators also have recognized that although such checks may technically be “opt in,” they’re effectively not optional for those who don’t have the luxury of only choosing landlords, jobs or loans that don’t require them, or who work in industries or live in areas where such checks are standard practice.
A Renters’ Rights Bill was given a second reading in the House of Lords Yesterday. Under the proposals presented as a Private Member’s Bill by the Liberal Democrat Baroness Grender, local authorities would be required to give tenants access to a database of rogue landlords and property agents. Also included are proposed amendments to the Landlord and Tenants Act 1985 which would abolish a large number of letting agency fees currently paid by a large number of renters in England such as: These include:
- registration fees
- administration fees
- inventory check fees
- reference check fees
- tenancy extension or renewal fee
- exit fees
The Baroness also proposes that persons deemed suitable for inclusion on a database of rogue landlords would preclude one the right of obtaining a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation) license.
Baroness Grender claims that the short-term nature of many modern tenancy agreements, with around one in four renters moving home in 2013-14 makes the abolition of agency fees significant. The Baroness claims that in London, the median anount that a renter must pay before moving is £1,500 with some renters forced to use loans or cut down on food and heating to cover up-front moving costs.
Contributing to the debate was the Conservative Viscount of Younger who commended Baroness Grender for introducing the Bill but expressed the Government’s reservations about the bill. The Viscount claimed that the banning of letting agent fees would not make renting any cheaper for tenants and Tenants would still end up paying through higher rents.
Aside for reservations however due to the the definitions of rogue landlords and letting agents and the best manner of regulating letting agent fees, the Bill enjoyed broad support and is scheduled to be considered by a House of Lords committee later in the year.
The private rented sector in London has grown from 17% of all homes to 26% over the last decade according to a London Housing Committee
However despite the rapid growth in private renting in the capital, the rules governing the sector remain largely unchanged since the 1980s. According to the report which represents the view of the majority of the London housing commitee, the Mayor of London should:
- Stimulate the build to let sector by getting government help for landlords competing to develop land;
- Set up a London-wide register of landlords to help the boroughs enforce existing legislation and better protect tenants; and
- Support London’s low-income renters by lobbying government to review the freeze imposed on Local Housing Allowance levels in London until 2020.
In addition to its consumer protection role, the National Renters Alliance is always open to ideas to present to government. If you have any suggestions to better protect and improve the situation of renting in London and across the rest of the United Kingdom please send us our thoughts.
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.