Councils are failing to protect tenants in three out of four cases where they discover rental homes are unsafe, according to activists running the Generation Rent campaign.
The group - led by Baroness Alicia Kennedy - says council inaction is leaving renters vulnerable to eviction, and makes it harder for them to claim back rent if their agent or landlord fails to fix dangerous disrepair.
The pressure group has been increasing its complaints about the private rental sector ahead of next week’s local elections. Now it is calling on councils to commit to serving improvement notices every time they find a dangerous private rented home which - according to the campaign - “will help to drive out criminal landlords and raise quality of homes for local renters.”
Local authorities in England are responsible for enforcing safety standards in private rental properties; if a Category 1 hazard is found on an inspection, the council can serve an improvement notice, obliging the owner to make repairs.
Generation Rent says: “This prevents the landlord from serving the tenant with a retaliatory no-fault eviction for six months. If the landlord fails to act on an improvement notice, the council can fine or prosecute them, and the tenant can apply for a Rent Repayment Order.”
The campaign adds that, based on its enquiries, 2,814 improvement notices were served in 2019-20, representing 24.3 per cent of hazards found.
The campaign admits this is an improvement on the 20.5 per cent of 2017-18 but slightly down on the 24.6 per cent of 2018-19.
Generation Rent criticises councils for a string of other issues too. It claims private renters have little confidence in their council taking appropriate action. In a poll of 1,008 private renters conducted by Survation in February, 35 per cent said they would contact the council if their landlord failed to fix something - but 44 per cent said they would look for somewhere else to live.
It also claims that “only” 55 councils have licensing schemes covering more properties than the legal minimum and only 10 of those have applied to the government to introduce schemes covering voer 20 per cent of the local rental market. Generation Rent is also calling on councils without licensing schemes to introduce them.
Campaign chief Baroness Kennedy states: “Things have to get pretty bad before the council comes around to inspect a problem property and criminal landlords will try anything to avoid doing work. Inaction by councils serves only to discourage renters from reporting safety problems, and to embolden landlords who cut corners.
“With no council support, tenants move out, and because so many people are desperate for a home, the landlord has no difficulty in finding a new victim.
“Budgets are tight, and there’s no question the government must provide more funding to drive out criminal landlords. But there are councils already doing the right thing across the country and these elections are a chance to elect councillors who will champion renters’ interests and adopt good practices to keep their homes safe.”