Britain’s rental crisis: 61% of renters have suffered damp, mould or leaking roofs

Exclusive: New report from Shelter hits out at "amateur" landlords

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The Independent Online

The plight of millions of people living in damp, mouldy or mice-infested rented homes has prompted campaigners to call for a national register of landlords to crack down on rogue and amateur operators.

More than nine million people rent from private landlords in England alone, in a market which has almost doubled in size in the last decade. The boom in buy-to-let mortgages in recent years has given rise to a generation of novice landlords, warns a new report released today by Shelter and British Gas.

“Ill-informed amateur and accidental landlords are far more numerous than rogues – and can be as dangerous for renters,” states the Safe and Decent Homes report. “The large number of amateur and accidental landlords has led to a lack of professionalism and expertise on conditions and standards.” The rental market is "dominated” by these landlords, “many of whom have little or no relevant experience or qualifications”.

More than one in four landlords have no previous experience of letting out a property, and almost half (43 per cent) do not regard renting as a proper business, according to the report.

Just one in 20 landlords belong to an accreditation scheme, and campaigners are calling for a mandatory national register. This would force those renting properties to prove they meet basic safety standards, and undergo training on their rights and responsibilities towards tenants. And there needs to be a change in the law so that landlords have to ensure their properties are actually fit to live in, adds the report.

It cites a recent survey of 4,500 private renters, which revealed 61 per cent have suffered from either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, “electrical hazards, animal infestations and gas leaks” in the past year. At least 360,000 people have had a gas leak or suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning. More than one in seven have lived with “electrical hazards” such as exposed wiring. Leaking roofs or windows have affected one in four tenants. And 38 per cent of renters have had damp problems – this equates to more than 3.4 milion people.

There are “too many homes in Britain” where people don’t feel safe or happy, says Bryan Halliday, director of sustainability at British Gas. “An increasing number of those are in the private rented sector. Although most landlords take their responsibilities to their tenants very seriously, a small minority don’t - and it’s often the case that those landlords just don’t know what their responsibilities are.”

A third of privately rented homes fail the Government’s decent homes standard. Yet hundreds of thousands of people are evicted every year for complaining about poor conditions, and many more put up with “non-decent homes because they fear reporting poor conditions”. New laws are needed to protect those complaining about the state of their homes from “retaliatory evictions” says the report.

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis said: “The majority of landlords provide a good service but I’m determined to root out the minority of landlords who are offering their tenants a raw deal. That’s why we are allocating more than £6m to councils to tackle rogue landlords in their area.”

He added: “But we are also avoiding imposing excessive regulation that would push up rents, reduce choice for tenants and strangle the industry in red tape and regulation. For example, the experience of Scotland shows that banning letting agents from charging fees to tenants has just resulted in higher rents.”

Responding to the findings, Richard Lambert, chief executive officer of the National Landlords Association said: “This report paints an inaccurate picture of a sector in tatters, based on opinion polls and conjecture rather than hard evidence.”

He admitted that “parts of private rented sector need to improve”, but argued that “it is simplistic to just default to the argument that more legislation, red tape and regulations are needed”. Local councils should do more to enforce their existing powers, he claimed.

But Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, told The Independent: “Renters in England and across the UK are bearing the brunt of a broken retail market that’s simply not fit for purpose. We hear from families everyday forced to live in homes that put their health and well-being at risk, often jumping from one short-term tenancy to the next and worried about being thrown out if they complain.”

He added: “Politicians need to commit to fixing private renting once and for all. From a national landlords register so that we know how many landlords there are and where they’re located, to protecting renters from revenge evictions, it is possible to make rented homes a safe and stable place to put down roots.”

Case study: Rising damp, green mould and evictions

Mandy Klopper, 43, and her teenage son Alex, 15, were plagued with chest infections as a result of living in a damp house in Woking, Surrey. Ongoing repairs left them without a bathroom and after they complained to the landlord they were evicted.

The house was damp and my landlord hadn’t dealt with it properly – my son and I both suffered from significant health issues whilst living there. The house had two big damp patches in my son’s room. One wall in the lounge had “bubbling” because of damp and there was extensive green mould in the roof.”

Ms Klopper added: “Alex had so many chest infections, headaches and nausea. He had to have a month off school at one point. I have cystic fibrosis and living with damp problems meant I kept coming down with a lung infection that I’d never had before or since we moved out.”

She recalled: “Our landlord didn’t seem to get that for us, the tenants, that property is our home, and a place we should be able to feel safe in, not in fear for our health. In the end, my ex-landlord gave me notice two weeks before Christmas in 2012 and immediately set about finding a new tenant.”