A new report from Citizens Advice claims that private tenants are reluctant to report repairs to their landlords for fear of retaliation, such as potential evictions, blacklisting and rent rises.
The study found that four in ten private tenants are too afraid to make complaints, which largely explains why sub-standard rental properties are the most common issue reported to the independent charity from those living in the private rental sector.
The report shows that more than two in five tenants (41%) – the equivalent of 1.85 million households – have waited longer than they usually should have for their landlord to carry out a repair in the last four years.
Citizens Advice now wants to see the significant power imbalance between landlords and tenants addressed.
Over the past year, Citizens Advice helped people with more than 16,000 problems around private rental sector homes in bad conditions.
Private landlords have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time – usually a month or less, or 24 hours for the most urgent cases.
When tenants wait longer than is deemed reasonable, a court order can be issued to the landlord, or the tenant can be awarded financial compensation. In some cases, both will be served.
However, this new research suggests that tenants are not holding their landlords to account, due to fears that they could lose their homes.
Some 57% of tenants said that they did not want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted. More than half – 51% – also said that another concern was that their landlord would increase the rent if they continued complaining.
Rather than pursuing the issue with their landlord or taking formal action, Citizens Advice found that tenants often take matters into their own hands, with 30% carrying out repairs themselves and 14% paying for repairs out of their own pockets.
One family who turned to Citizens Advice for support had spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a number of issues in their home, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.
The charity is calling for better protection against retaliatory evictions by rolling out independent complaints bodies – or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) schemes – across the private rental sector.
The Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, insists: “Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation.
“Homes in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to Citizens Advice for help with. Issues such as broken fittings, faulty electricals or leaks can make life hard for renters, and can even lead to ill health. But renters aren’t pursuing their rights to repair because they are worried their landlord will put up their rent or evict them. To add to this, formal routes to redress aren’t being used either because they’re too difficult and expensive.”
She continues: “Rent is the most expensive costs households face, but protections for renters simply don’t reflect this. The new Government needs to make it easier for people to have their rights enforced when their home is in poor condition.
“The redress process also needs to give renters protection from retaliatory action, so they feel confident reporting a problem in their home and don’t feel like their only option is to dip into their own pocket.”
While this study highlights the issues still tarnishing the private rental sector, the latest English Housing Survey appears to dispel certain myths surrounding private renting: https://landlordnews.co.uk/latest-english-housing-survey-dispels-myths/