Rogue landlords raking in billions

A major Citizens Advice study has revealed 740,000 households in England live in privately rented homes that present a severe threat to tenants' health.

The report, A Nation of Renters, said these properties have category one hazards - the most serious of problems. These can include a host of dangers, such as: severe damp, rat infestations and risk of explosions.

The latest available data shows these properties contain 510,000 children and 180,000 have a disabled person.

Landlords are receiving £5.6bn a year on rent for homes with category 1 hazards, which includes £1.3bn of housing benefit.

The report also showed that 16% of privately rented homes are physically unsafe – far higher than the 6% in the social rented market; 8% of privately rented homes have serious damp; 10% pose a risk of a dangerous fall; 6% are excessively cold; and private renters living in homes with a category 1 hazard pay an average of £157 per week on rent.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Rogue landlords are putting profits before safety.

“With a growing private rental sector, increasing numbers of people – including more than 500,000 children – are falling prey to landlords who fail to meet decent standards.

“The government has rightly said it wants to tackle the country’s housing crisis – it must make targeting dodgy landlords, giving tenants better rights and driving up standards a major part of that effort."

There are now more than a million families raising children in privately rented homes in England - three times higher than it was a decade ago, the report, which was carried out alongside the think-tank New Policy Institute, added.

With the cost of buying property rising steeply in many parts of the country, couples with children are now the most common household type in the private rental market.

Citizens Advice said private renters are woefully under-protected and have to navigate through numerous pieces of complex legislation to seek legal redress from landlords.

It said that taking court action against a landlord can be long, complicated and expensive. This is compounded by the fact many complaints have to be made to local authorities, which often do not have the capacity to act quickly.

The charity called for landlords to refund rents to tenants where properties are dangerous or not fit to live in.

It also recommended that a national landlord register should be set up. This would help ensure landlords operating illegally cannot move to different areas to avoid legal action, claimed Citizens Advice.

the body added that councils should also set up local licensing to tackle specific issues in their private rental markets. This could help to ensure landlords are providing the quality of housing and service the area needs and ensure tenants know what they can expect from a good landlord.

The report is part of Citizen Advice’s Settled and Safe campaign, which has exposed wide-spread failure in the private rental market.

In the past year more than 80,000 people came to the charity suffering a problem with a privately rented home. The Citizens Advice campaign successfully called for an end to retaliatory evictions – where landlords unfairly evict tenants who have raised problems – which will be made illegal later this year.