Sub-standard homes remain a key weakness in the private rental sector, which needs to get its house in order in the light of increased government intervention.
That’s the message from the chief operating officer of automated payment platform PayProp UK, Neil Cobbold.
He says the government's review of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, or HHSRS, is happening at just the right time for the fast-growing lettings sector.
The HHSRS was introduced in 2006 as a provision of the Housing Act 2004.
It provides local authorities with the means to check health and safety in residential properties: councils can use the HHSRS to recover costs from landlords for repair works or order them to carry out improvements.
Typical hazards that can be flagged through the HHSRS include damp, overcrowding and fire risks, with issues ranked in importance and starting with a 'category 1' hazard as the most dangerous.
Back in October, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced a review of the HHSRS - a move welcomed by Cobbold in the light of the findings of the most recent English Housing Survey, published in January.
This shows that the private rental sector accounts for the highest proportion of ‘non-decent’ homes at 25 per cent. For a home to be considered 'decent', it must meet HHSRS minimum standards with, amongst other things, no category 1 hazards.
The latest English Housing Survey, for 2017, shows 14 per cent of privately rented homes had a category 1 hazard, down from 31 per cent in 2008.
"With the private rental sector accounting for the highest proportion of non-decent homes, the review of the HHSRS will be important in determining if criteria need to be tightened in order to reduce the number of sub-standard rental homes" says Cobbold.
"It's pleasing to see that the number of rental homes with serious hazards is declining, but that is another reason why the HHSRS needs updating.
"As newer homes enter the sector and energy efficiency continues to improve, there could be entirely different health and safety issues which now merit closer attention," he says.
Cobbold believes that an updated HHSRS is essential now that the private rental sector is bigger and renters are more diverse.
"As well as changing demographics, which have an impact on property standards, the sector has become much larger since 2006, now accounting for around a fifth of all households. This means more tenants need protection from rogue landlords with increased opportunities to let sub-standard homes” Cobbold adds.
"Moreover, the introduction this year of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 - which will give tenants the opportunity to take legal action against landlords letting hazardous homes - means that a HHSRS which reflects the current market is vital."