Article in the Guardian 10th September 2018

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We all live busy lives, so I hope you will forgive my reporting on an article in The Guardian from 10th September this year. I have only just come across it as I try to catch up on my reading.

Perhaps it is as well that I did not read it earlier; the distance of a couple of months allows me to read and report on it with a degree of calm.

It seems Julie Rugg, senior research fellow at York University’s Centre for Housing Policy and author of the infamous Rugg Report and its’ damning indictment of the private rental sector, has been at it again. The original report was published in October 2008 and, after 10 years, she has co-authored a follow-up and, surprise surprise, there seems no improvement.

I read through the Guardian newspaper report becoming increasingly concerned. ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens paints no worse a picture of the lives of the poor than this does. Headlined ‘Study reveals rise in children raised in squalid rental homes’. ‘Squalid conditions’ are described as including damp walls, broken heating and infestation by rats; it is estimated the number of young children living in such properties has risen by 75,000 since 2007.

The Guardian article gave startling statistics. One in three homes (33 per cent) at the lowest rents is classed as non-decent. Even more surprising, one in five (20 per cent) properties at the most expensive rents also did not meet the decent standard. Where young families are caught in these properties, the health impacts are very serious and can impact on a child for years.

Government ministers were accused by Labour of ‘failing to catch up with the growing importance of the private rented sector’ – an accusation I have been making for a number of years.

How do these shocking statistics help the sector? The answer, of course, is that they don’t.  It leads to a perception of ghettoisation in the poorer areas, to be avoided at all costs by some of the people that must rely on it for a home. 

According to the Guardian article there are now nearly 5 million people living in private rented accommodation, of which 1.2 million do not apparently meet the required standard; so despite the concerns, the majority of tenants are living happily in decent accommodation. 

Of the tenants who have lived in their homes for 10 years or more, 42 per cent fail the standard, whereas of those living in their homes for less than a year, 25 per cent had unfit homes. 

The conclusion reached in the Guardian article was that this shows landlords were responsible for poor conditions. This may be the case, but what of the tenant who reports no issues, who does not allow any access, who claims mental health issues? My view would be to serve them notice, but many landlords are far more sympathetic than I am.

Another plea for longer tenancies was made (the answer to everything) because tenants would feel more secure and prepared to report issues to the local authority if they did not fear eviction. As steps have already been enacted to tackle the problem of retaliatory eviction, it is difficult to see how a 3-year tenancy would greatly improve the position.

There may be parts of the private rented sector that deserve the epithet ‘squalid’ but addressing the homelessness issue with the private sector stands a better chance if it is not constantly labelled and viewed as an unsatisfactory and very second-class option.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon

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