Why aren’t our local councils dealing with substandard private housing?

On Tuesday the 12th of January 2016, Conservative MPs voted against new proposed legislation to necessitate private housing being up to living standards.

According to the shadow housing minister, Teresa Pearce the vast majority of the U.K’s landlords are meticulous in ensuring the best possible living standards for their tenants, however there are exceptions to this whereby private properties fall well below living standards

Despite reports of 51,916 complaints made to 120 local councils, only 14,043 homes were inspected by housing officers. These figures are from a survey carried out by Labour MP Karen Buck. Also included in the findings were clearly inadequate responses from councils to dangerous situations such as excess cold and fire risk. Speaking on the lack of regulation governing private landlords and the moral obligation to provide livable housing, Karen Buck said:

“Far too few of the landlords that let grossly substandard properties can expect to have tough enforcement against them,” she also raised concerns that a growing private housing sector that predominantly houses the homeless and people on low income needs more resources to protect these vulnerable tenants.

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Even the new laws enforced since last October to protect tenants from ‘revenge evictions’ used to punish tenants for complaining don’t go far enough, the only way a tenant can be protected from such a unscrupulous practice is if the local council serves a ‘improvement notice’

Councils appear to be struggling to keep up with the volume of complaints and the growing private housing sector, according to the Local Government Association:

“The private rented sector is growing and, with limited resources and competing funding pressures, councils are working hard to ensure that complaints from tenants are prioritised and dealt with appropriately,”

“Some may be resolved without the need for inspection, and enforcement is a last resort when all other options fail.”

Research carried out by the Guardian revealed that out of 2,006 convicted private landlords from 06-14, collective fines amounted to a mere £3m, approx £1,5000 per convicted landlord. Karen Buck rightly states:

“If I purchased food from a shop and it was unsafe to eat I would not only get a refund but there is a high possibility the shopkeeper could be prosecuted. Yet if I rent from a landlord, perhaps the only available property for me, and it was unsafe to live in then I can either put up or shut up. In a market where demand outstrips supply renters lack basic consumer power to bargain for better conditions.”

If you are a private tenant facing substandard living conditions, there is advice and help here via the Shelter website

images via Wikimedia and Amanda Vincent-Rous on Flikr

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