Unfit homes and profiteering landlords

In 2017 two-thirds of private tenants said they had experienced damp, mould, leaking roofs and windows, electrical hazards, vermin or gas leaks in the previous year

In September 2018, a number of Freedom of Information requests submitted by the Radical Housing Network revealed that much of the millions of pounds awarded to local councils to tackle appalling housing standards in private rented accommodation was in fact being used to fund racist raids by police and immigration officials on vulnerable tenants. Two tranches of money were awarded by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in 2012 and 2014, to predominantly London councils, to tackle the ‘beds in sheds’ problem (where people were paying rent for living in space in sheds in back gardens, garages and stairwells) and to root out ‘rogue landlords’. Newham Council in east London received the biggest share of the fund. RHN says according to its research, the council carried out 341 dawn raids using police and UK Border Agency officials and made 400 arrests. They have boasted of targeting landlords who let to ‘illegal migrants’. RHN says that as a result of the crackdown, many tenants have been at best left homeless, at worst subject to arrest on immigration and other charges.

Certainly, the money has not made even a dent in the provision of substandard accommodation. Since April, councils have had additional powers to ban landlords. Not one has been banned. Despite the government estimating that more than ten thousand unfit landlords are renting out homes across the country, local authorities have failed to register a single name on the database that exists for this purpose. An investigation by the Guardian and ITV in October revealed that even landlords who have been convicted of multiple housing offences are still renting out properties. The landlord licensing powers that local councils possess are a farce; the DCLG has to sign off on any request to enforce licences in more than 20% of a given area. Only one council, Redbridge, has ever applied for a borough-wide licensing scheme, in 2015. The DCLG turned it down.

Neither the government nor local councils have any real interest in regulating the private rented sector. The problem is not a few ‘rogue’ landlords but the whole system. With 4.5 million households (36% of them families with children) now in private rented accommodation, vast sums of public money are transferred to these profiteers through housing benefit; as rents rise and the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the working class are desperate for anywhere to live, people are crammed into overcrowded homes, repairs are ignored and, with little legal protection for tenants, those who complain are at risk of eviction. The housing charity Shelter says that a quarter of all homes in the private rented sector do not meet the Decent Homes Standard; in 2017 two-thirds of private tenants said they had experienced damp, mould, leaking roofs and windows, electrical hazards, vermin or gas leaks in the previous year.

There is no legal obligation on landlords to ensure homes are safe or ‘fit for human habitation’. In June 2017, 319 MPs voted down a Labour proposal to introduce such an obligation. 72 of them were themselves private landlords.

Cat Allison


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