On 18 July 2021, the government released a report on the housing conditions within the private rented sector in England.
It outlines the issues that have occurred within this area of law including the over-regulation of property conditions which has led to a confused and convoluted legal framework.
This article is a summary of the finding as well as the report’s commentary on the recommendations.
The Reports findings
The report found that housing conditions within the private rented sector is struggling.
The English housing survey had estimated that in 2019 around 23% of privately rented homes did not meet the decent homes standard, which is around 1.1 million properties.
The decent homes standard is the standard set for social housing property conditions. This is higher than the social housing figure; as well as the fact that PRS homes are more likely to have at least one category one hazard under the Housing Health & Safety Rating System.
In addition, the report quotes a Shelter report from 2014 which found that 61% had experienced at least one of these problems in the last 12 months of renting a property: damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations and gas leaks.
Overall the report shows that the private rented sector compared to social housing is in a more degraded point regarding housing condition. While there is a lot of regulation regarding property condition for the PRS, it seems to be failing in its goal of improving conditions for tenants.
So why are housing conditions failing?
Recently, the NRLA published a document titled Not under-regulated but underenforced: the legislation affecting private landlords in England.
This article said that it was rather the legal framework and the lack of enforcement by the local authorities which is causing a detriment to the private rented sector. While the article was looking at the whole of the private rented sector, it could be argued that this especially applies to the regulation of housing conditions.
The property condition in England is governed by various regulations brought about over the years, such as the Smoke Alarm Regulations 2015 and the Electrical Safety Standards 2020.
Although having regulations governing property conditions split over a variety of years isn’t necessarily a bad practice, the constant updating and redrafting causing a conveyor belt of regulations every year can lead to confusion and apathy by key members of the PRS (landlords, tenants and even council enforcement officers).
This in turn will lead to falling standards within the sector.
In addition, it can be also argued that the policies themselves have also caused falling standards in the sector. The additional regulations has brought with them additional expense to landlords and with that, a loss of revenue.
In a recent report by the NRLA found here, it found that repairs and improvements to attain the level of energy efficiency required by the government by 2025 will cost on average, around £7,500 per property.
With regulations aimed to be in place for 2025, the government is therefore expecting landlords to pay on average 2 years income in the next 4 years for energy improvements.
This seems wishful thinking given the fact that many landlords have had to carry the burden of the pandemic, such as being expected to accept lower rent. The average annual net income for landlords is around £4,500.
Furthermore, there are discrepancies within the regulations themselves which seem to counteract each other: infamously, replacing a gas boiler is tax deductible while replacing one for a more energy efficient system is not. This shows that there are flaws within the policy currently that need to be addressed.
Therefore, the over regulation and the regulation themselves, amongst other factors have caused a reduction in the overall housing quality within the sector. While there are landlords who do not perform their repairing responsibilities and they should be punished, this problem can’t be only left at the door of landlords.
So what can be done to change this?
Reform of the HHSRS
Firstly, the report calls for reform of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.
The system has attracted criticism as it is perceived as being outdated and complex. The complexity makes it difficult for both landlords and tenants to understand what their rights are and how the system works.
Since 2018 the government has admitted that the system needs updating, but there hasn’t been any significant changes made to the process. An update of the risks as well as a new system would make it easier for landlords to understand.
Improve Local Authority Enforcement
Secondly, the report also identifies ineffective local authority enforcement as another reason why the housing standards have dropped.
One reason that local authorities have a hard time using enforcement powers is a lack of resources.
However, perhaps the most significant reason that the local authorities are failing enforcing housing improvements, is that this area of law is extremely convoluted and confusing.
Enforcement powers are spread around various types of regulations and can be difficult for local authorities officers to understand without proper training – which is frequently unaffordable.
This has led to what can be described as ‘the postcode lottery of local authorities’ – some local authorities using their enforcement powers regularly against landlords whilst others not using any of their civil penalty powers.
- 89% of Local Authorities reported they had not used the new powers
- 53% reported that they did not have a policy in place to use the powers
- 18% of Local Authorities reported they had not served a single Improvement Notice.
Ideally enfocement powers need to be simplified to make it easier for local authorities to properly hold landlords in their jurisdiction to account.
Change the landlord/tenant power imbalance
Finally, the report cites the power imbalance between landlords and tenants. Primarily, for properties in bad condition, it is almost always the tenant who must make a complaint to the council before any action can be done against the landlord.
Surveys indicate that many tenants are unwilling to pursue a complaint against their landlord for fear of retaliatory eviction or a rent rise.
For example, in a YouGov survey commissioned by Shelter in 2021, 39% of private renters said they had been forced to live in dangerous or unhealthy conditions because they feared complaining to their landlord would trigger a retaliatory eviction.
In addition, many tenants may be unaware of their rights and what responsibilities the landlord has in order to repair the property during the tenancy. Whilst section 21 ‘no fault evictions’ are in the process of being removed from the private rented sector, the lack of knowledge over tenant’s rights and rent rises will be ongoing issues that the government will need to tackle as well.
You will find the full report via this page.