Poor housing can damage our health – that’s why it needs licensing

By - Thursday 11th December, 2014

Dan Wilson Craw explains why basic checks are vital for good housing – just like everything else

Photo author’s own.

Think about the essentials you spend your money on. Food, transport, water, electricity: we all need them and when we part with our cash, we don’t expect them to harm us. They rarely do, because they’re all regulated – it would be unthinkable for a restaurant to serve food, a bus company to ferry people around, or a utility to supply your tap water without first passing some basic safety checks.

Why is housing any different? Anyone can let out a property, and there is very little to stop a landlord doing what he likes to extract as much rent as he can for minimal cost. As a result, across the country 35% of privately rented homes have at least one serious health and safety hazard.

That means tenants living with mould, faulty wiring, damp, lack of heating, and vermin. They risk an array of health problems – not to mention the straight-up misery of not having somewhere comfortable to go at the end of the day. If any other business made you ill, they wouldn’t last long.

To early adopters, there would be a cost of £1.34 a week per property

There is now a chance to change that. Croydon Council is consulting on introducing a licensing regime for landlords in the borough and this will make it harder for the criminal landlords to keep operating.

All landlords would have to obtain a licence in order to let out property and to get one they would need to meet certain minimum criteria.

If they don’t get a licence – or can’t, if they have prior convictions – then they have no business providing housing for tenants, so they’ll be banned from the borough.

Licensed landlords will have to pay a fee to cover the council’s administration of the scheme. Robert Ward, writing for the Citizen last week, thinks that will force up rents. But the cost is a tiny price to pay for a better rental market. To early adopters, there would be a cost of £1.34 a week per property – less than one percent of the lowest typical rent for a studio in Croydon of £144 a week. £1.34 is a drop in the ocean, and landlords would have to be exceedingly petty to hike the rent on that basis.

There would be no overall impact on demand and supply

Robert also suggests that, faced with the cost, a landlord might decide to sell up and exit the market completely. He says this like it’s a bad thing. But that sold house will go to one of the thousands of families in Croydon who are desperate to buy their first home but keep getting outbid by investors. That family will leave their privately rented home vacant for another family to move into. There would be no overall impact on demand and supply.

Robert is right that many of the problems are already offences, but while the law prohibits landlords from letting out substandard property, it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming for the council to prosecute them for this. Licensing turns the tables by putting the onus on the landlord to sue the council if they can’t get a licence to operate. Good landlords will choose the licence.

Housing is a service just like any other – for the sake of Croydon’s 75,000 private renters it should be regulated like one.

Support Generation Rent Croydon’s campaign for landlord licensing by signing our petition here.

Dan Wilson Craw

Dan Wilson Craw

Dan Wilson Craw is Communications and Marketing Manager for Generation Rent. Generation Rent has been campaigning for secure, decent and affordable homes for private renters since March 2014.

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  • Robert

    To go through some of the points made:

    Landlords aren’t regulated – not true. There are some 50 Acts of Parliament and 70 regulations pertaining. Examples are quoted in this article.

    I like figures, but say where they are from and get them right. The English Housing Survey found 33% of Private Rented dwellings were non decent. Most common issue was 19% (not 35%) that had a safety issue; the most common was the risk of falls due to uneven floors and steep stairs. I live in a house that might well fail this test. Significant factor is private rented dwellings tend to be older, flat conversions.

    Let’s take damp, present in 9.3% of private rented and 6.5% of social rented. The proportion of private rented dwellings with damp had halved over the previous six years without licensing. Most common cause is condensation, often easily remedied and in which the tenant often has a hand.

    Issues are not solely in the private rented sector, to put in perspective there are more non-decent owner-occupied homes than there are private rented and social rented PUT TOGETHER.

    The scheme would put up rents, one can argue about how much or how significant it will be. I explained how that will happen in my article.

    The apparent don’t care attitude to landlords withdrawing from the sector I do find disappointing. I was a tenant for many years. It is a flexible option that fulfils a need.

    In conclusion, if there is a problem, let’s identify it and find the best way to fix it. A list of bad stuff that happens in all sectors, poorly analysed figures and indulging in private landlord bashing doesn’t help anybody. IMO the proposed licensing scheme will increases rents and won’t fix any of the problems quoted.

    • Robert

      P.S. And don’t forget the issue ignored here is that landlord licensing is being justified on the basis that Private Rented Tenants are the source of anti-social behaviour and flytipping. How do tenants feel about that?

      Making landlords responsible for tenants behaviour means the landlord has to be on your case much more than most tenants would like. You may think that this is a solution to problems you might get with your neighbours, but in actuality you may find the exact opposite.