The scathing report from the University of York highlights that in its current form the private rental market is not providing a suitable alternative to homeownership – which is increasingly unachievable.
It slammed the government for an “absence of an overarching vision” which has resulted in “reams of policies and regulations to address problems in the sector which are not joined up or thought through”.
The authors published a previous report 10 years ago and noted that a slum tenure culture has since become apparent at the bottom end of the market due to welfare changes with landlords failing to maintain properties.
Current regulation of the sector is “confused and contradictory” and “failing at multiple levels”, they added, while opportunities for linkage and simplification are being missed, with tenants and landlords unsure of their rights and responsibilities.
Poor property management
The property MOT would operate in a similar way to cars, in which all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection.
According to the authors it would bring together current requirements such as electrical and gas safety certificates and energy efficiency reports, but also include a new assessment according to a basic minimum standard.
It would be conducted by independent inspectors and would be a tax-deductible business cost for landlords.
Other key issues flagged by the report were:
- Poor conditions are a problem at both ends of the market with one in five homes let at the top 20% of rents and one in three let at the bottom 20% of rents being are non-decent. Conditions get worse the longer tenants are in their property, indicating that poor property management, rather than old housing stock is the root cause.
- Changes to welfare reform are creating a ‘slum tenure’ at the bottom end of the market as more tenants are unable to afford to meet their current rent levels or find accommodation without the help of statutory or third sector agencies.
- Policy interventions are increasingly focused on helping higher and middle-income renters priced out of ownership, with little or no help for those on low incomes.
No minimum standard
The review concluded that no government has been clear on the function of renting within the housing market and as a result, interventions have been piecemeal and poorly targeted.
University of York Centre for Housing Policy senior research fellow and co-author of the report Dr Julie Rugg said: “Since our first review was published, declining home ownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting – particularly families with young children.
“We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role renting plays in our housing market and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it meets the needs of all those who live there.”
She added: “Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards.
“A property MOT would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards won’t lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution.”
The review was funded by the Nationwide Foundation. Chief executive Leigh Pearce said politicians have ignored private renters resulting in a market that too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes.
“It’s time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting,” she said.
Onus on councils
The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) welcomed the report and noted that while government data showed 84% of private tenants were satisfied with their accommodation there was still room to improve.
However, it called on local councils to act to enforce the laws currently available, but agreed that current legislation was too complex.
“Tenants, landlords and local authorities all need to clearly understand their roles, responsibilities and the powers available to tackle poor housing. For many this has become difficult to achieve,” said RLA policy director David Smith.
“A root and branch review of all regulations affecting the sector needs to be carried out to understand if they are achieving what was originally intended. There is no point passing new laws and regulations if the existing ones are not being enforced properly.”