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articles > Shelter Launches Campaign Against “Rogue Landlords”
Article > Shelter Launches Campaign Against "Rogue Landlords"


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Homeless charity Shelter has launched a campaign against what it’s calling “Rogue Landlords” – and is claiming that they’re far from being a minority. The charity has published a report stating that 90% of surveyed environmental health officers (EHOs) “who deal directly with private renters had encountered landlords harassing or illegally evicting their tenants.”

Shelter reports that 90% have also “encountered cases of severe damp, mould, electrical or fire safety hazards in properties they investigated in the last year.” Astonishingly, one EHO described a house that had been let with no heating, hot water or electricity. Another reported a home let to a mother with children that didn’t have a kitchen. 60% of the EHOs surveyed said they thought that the motive behind letting such unsuitable properties was profit.

Shelter is pressing for government and local authorities to work together and “develop a tough programme of action.” ‘Our investigation shows just how ruthless a minority of rogue landlords can be,” said Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb. “But this is not just the odd crook here and there. We know there are people operating in cities up and down the county and it’s clear that this is a national problem that urgently needs a national solution.”

Shelter has also commissioned some research about what tenants think about their landlords. It makes pretty uncomfortable reading: their headline runs “1 million victims of landlord scams”

2,234 tenants were surveyed, and 2% of them said “they had been the victim of underhand practices when privately renting”. Shelter says that this 2% is “equivalent to 1 million people nationwide”. If that extrapolation were correct, it would mean that 50 million of the UK’s 61 million population were renting. As that would leave only 11 million people to complain about the value of their houses at dinner parties, it seems unlikely to be accurate.

Figures aside, there’s no indication of just what the survey respondents meant by “underhand practises”. It might mean illegal practice – homes not up to standard, or deposits unfairly withheld. But it might equally mean landlords who’ve annoyed their tenants – by, for example, wanting their rent paid on time, and asking their tenants to vacate when it’s not. We have no way of knowing, based on the reports that have been issued.

We also have no idea how self-selecting these 45 (2% of 2,234) tenants were. It seems inevitable, though, that those who have an amicable relationship with their landlord would be much less likely to fill out a poll about problem landlords.

There’s no doubt that Shelter does important and valuable work. And what they’re trying to do with this survey – raise awareness of problem landlords and the effect they have on their tenants – is laudable. But this has to be based on fact, not on shock value.

 

And the problem is far from being limited to private landlords. Another report out this week looks at homes owned by local councils, and shows that one in four London council dwellings do not reach the government’s Decent Homes Standard. To reach the standard, homes must be free of hazards, in a reasonable state of repair and have adequate windows, heating, boilers, plumbing and electrics. Kitchens must be less than 20 years old and bathrooms less than 30 years old.



The worst performance is from Havering in east London, where 56% of the council’s 10,000+ homes do not meet the standard. Tower Hamlets’ is next worst on 55%. The government promised earlier this year that by the end of 2010, 95% of council housing would be at its benchmark level.

The Department of Communities and Local Government has so far refused to guarantee that funding for upgrades will be available to local authorities. Marc Francis, Tower Hamlets’ councillor with special responsibility for housing, said: “The government has committed £120m for us to bring our housing to Decent Homes Standard if we get a two star rating this autumn. But now we are worried the government is going to withdraw the funding.”

A spokesperson for the DCLG said, “The Decent Homes initiative is still active and ongoing until the end of 2010. Its future beyond that will be dependent on the Comprehensive Spending Review”, which takes place in October.

It’s obvious that there are problem landlords, and that someone, somewhere should do something about them. That seems to be the responsibility of local authorities – who can’t even get their own houses in order. Far from needing a new “national solution” as Shelter propose, existing legislation and regulation needs to be enforced across both private and social sectors. With cuts to local services coming thick and fast, this seems unlikely to happen without support from central government.

And tenants have a part to play in this too: the really shocking statistic from the same Shelter survey is that a quarter of tenants haven’t heard of tenancy deposit schemes. If the true rogues are to be stopped, then a huge part of that will come from tenants educating themselves about the rights and protections they already have.

 

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