Hundreds of thousands of young tenants in England are living in squalid rental housing that is likely to leave them requiring medical attention, according to analysis of Government figures by The Guardian.
Rats, mouldy walls, exposed electrical wiring, leaky roofs and broken locks are among the issues blighting an estimated 338,000 homes rented by people under the age of 35-years-old that have been deemed so hazardous that they are likely to cause harm.
This means that over half a million people are starting their adult lives in such conditions, amid a worsening housing shortage and rising rents, which have increased by an average of 15% across the UK in the past seven years.
Visits by The Guardian to properties where tenants are paying up to £1,100 per month in rent have revealed holes in external walls, insect-infested beds, water pouring through ceilings and mould-covered kitchens.
A 30-year-old mother near Bristol said that her home is so damp that her child’s cot rotted. A 34-year-old woman in Luton told of living with no heating, as well as infestations of rats and cockroaches, while a 24-year-old mother from Kent said that she lived in a damp flat with no heating and defective wiring for a year, before it was condemned.
Dan Wilson Craw, the Director of tenant lobby group Generation Rent, says: “Young adults have very little option but to rent from a private landlord, so we should at least expect a decent home in return for what we pay.
Hundreds of Thousands of Tenants Living in Squalid Rental Housing
“Relying on cash-strapped councils to enforce our rights means that too many of us are stuck with unsafe housing.”
The extent of the impact on young people emerged as a cross-party bid to give tenants new powers to fight back against rogue landlords gathers strength.
The Government has backed a private member’s bill going through Parliament that would allow tenants to take direct legal action against their landlords, instead of relying on local authorities to do so.
The issue has gained greater political impetus in the wake of the fire at Grenfell Tower, where tenants had complained publicly about safety conditions, but nothing was done before the blaze claimed 71 lives last June.
Seven months before the blaze, Ed Daffern, a member of Grenfell Action Group, warned of “dangerous living conditions” and wrote in a blogpost: “Only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”
Government data suggests that as many as 2.4m people in England live in rental homes, both in the private and social sectors, with category 1 hazards. That includes 756,000 households living in private rental properties – almost one in five of the whole private rental stock – and 244,000 households in social housing.
The worst affected regions are the East and West Midlands, which feature large numbers of Victorian homes, where about 250,000 rental properties suffer from category 1 hazards, according to the figures compiled by Labour from the English Housing Survey. These hazards include: exposed wiring or overloaded electrical sockets; dangerous or broken boilers; very cold bedrooms; leaking roofs; mould; vermin; and broken stairs.
“One million homes in this country are currently unfit, putting the health, and in some cases safety, of tenants at risk,” says Karen Buck, the Labour MP for North Westminster who drafted the fitness for human habitation bill that is going through Parliament. “Yet, at the moment, landlords have no obligation to their tenants to put or keep the property in a condition fit for habitation.”
Around half of councils in England have served none or just one enforcement notice under the Housing Act in the past year, Buck notes.
The London Borough of Newham estimates that 10,000 private rental homes within its boundaries are in category 1 – equivalent to one in four properties. Its inspectors have photographed rats in larders, baths and beds in kitchens, bedrooms in cupboards, and homes with plastic sheets in place of roofs.
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, comments: “In practice, you have fewer rights renting a family home than you do buying a fridge-freezer.
“Too many people are forced to put up with downright dangerous housing. After the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower, it’s even more important that ministers back Labour’s plan to make all homes fit for human habitation.”
Sajid Javid, the Housing Secretary, says that he is determined “to do everything possible to protect tenants”, and pledges Government support for new legislation that requires all landlords to ensure that properties are safe and gives tenants the right to take legal action if landlords fail in their duties.
Since April, landlords have faced fines of up to £30,000 and, as an alternative to prosecution, the Government is planning to introduce banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders, with a database of convicted rogue landlords and letting agents.
The Chief Executive of housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, concludes: “The Grenfell tragedy exposed the catastrophic consequences of unsafe housing in the most devastating way, and how our laws fail to protect people’s right to a safe and decent home.
“Too many private and social renters are forced to live in poor and sometimes dangerous conditions, unable to tackle safety concerns or legally challenge their landlord.”