Rental property not up to scratch
More than 40% of rented properties in England are in a `non-decent' condition - despite a booming rental sector. Robert Powell takes a closer look...
The rental sector has emerged from the recession in fairly good shape. The number of private rented properties in England has risen by one million since 2005 and rented accommodation now makes up 15.65% of all households in England.
But despite these booming stats, a massive 41% of rented properties in England have been judged by the government to be in a ‘non-decent’ condition. It’s all in the new English Housing Survey that was published late last month by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
So let’s take a closer look at the figures...
Failing to meet standards
The survey shows that 1.4 million private rented homes are currently in a ‘non-decent’ state when judged on a set of criteria produced by the government. That’s out of a total of 3.4 million private rented households.
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Out of England’s total housing stock, 30% of properties were classed as non-decent. Social housing had the highest level of decency – with only 20% deemed non-decent. Local authority housing was slightly worse – 27% of these properties were classed as non-decent, while in the owner-occupied sector, 29% of homes failed to meet the minimum standards.
Overall, the number of non-decent properties fell by one million between 2006 and 2009 to 6.7 million. The proportion of properties failing to meet the minimum standards in the private rented sector also fell between 2008 and 2009 from 44% to 41%. But actual number of non-decent dwellings stayed the same due to a general increase in the size of the sector.
But what exactly is a ‘non-decent’ home?
The criteria used to judge the decency of a property was re-written back in 2006 in a lengthy document produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Three factors are looked at when judging the decency of a property. Firstly, a property must not be judged to have one or more hazards assessed as serious (category 1) under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). When assessing a property under the HHSRS, inspectors will look for risks of harm posed to an occupier of a dwelling through factors like fire safety, excess cold and heat, mould and ventilation. Each hazard is then profiled into a band and placed into a category of seriousness.
A property will also be classed as non-decent if it lacks three of the following:
- A kitchen that is no more than 20 years old with “adequate space and layout”.
- An appropriately located bathroom that is no more than 30 years old.
- Adequate insulation against noise.
- Communal areas of an adequate size.
And finally, properties with a lack of thermal comfort or that are not in a reasonable state of repair will also be classed non-decent.
A question of definition
The full definition of what makes up a non-decent property is a sprawling one that is in many places riddled with ambiguity and vagaries. Yes, it’s hard to deny that crumbling walls, broken fire alarms and extensive mould would make a property non-decent in anyone’s book. But certain factors, such as the age of kitchens and bathrooms or adequate sized communal areas should not, in my opinion anyway, automatically render a household non-decent.
Watch out for this scam if you’re a tenant!
In my experience, the increasingly pricey rental sector is forcing many tenants to compromise on what the government would call ‘decency’ in order to obtain a reasonably priced property. I know this as it’s exactly what I’m currently doing!
Indeed, if the complete criteria for decent housing were enforced on every property, rents would be forced up across the country. Factor in the current impact of rising prices on landlords and you could see a rental sector growing increasingly expensive at a time when many tenants really need it to be more affordable.
But this wouldn’t just be a problem for tenants as it would also hit responsible landlords who specialise in offering affordable housing by keeping their properties safe, but not spotless. The student housing sector would certainly be one of the first rental markets to be crippled if landlords were forced to completely modernise every home they let out.
The housing survey's definition of non-decent is designed to review the state of England’s properties and draw up a plan to improve them, rather than to play a part in the legal enforcement of a set number of housing standards on England’s housing stock. But private rental landlords do still have a set of legal health and safety obligations they must meet when renting out properties.
Landlords are generally responsible for maintaining and repairing the structure and exterior of a property. A property must also be ‘fit for habitation’ with a working supply of electricity, gas, and water and adequate sanitation (drains, sinks etc.). There must be no damp that could damage the health of a tenant and any gas appliances and installations supplied with the property must receive an annual safety check and certificate (head to this site for more information on gas safety).
Landlords do not have to obtain certificates for electrical appliances but they must be safe and in a good working order.
Any furniture supplied with the property should be fire resistant and if the property has multiple occupants (with an HMO licence) it must have a fire alarm and mains operated heat or smoke detectors, as well as at least one fire extinguisher and suitable escape routes. For single dwellings, a landlord must risk assess fire safety measures and ensure that general fire precautions are satisfactory.
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If a property doesn’t meet these basic health and safety criteria then the tenant may be able to take their landlord to court due to the potential health risk.
Rental law is as vast as it is complicated – we’ve done our best to outline the key aspects of it in articles such as Tenants: Know your rights and Five property rental myths uncovered, but there are always exceptions.
If you use a letting agent it’s worth checking it they’re registered with the independent arbitration service; The Property Ombudsman. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau is another good place to get advice about tenancy related issues or of course you can post a question here on lovemoney.com and get help from another member.
What do you think?
How do you define a non-decent home? Is private rented property really as shabby as this survey makes out?
Let us know what you think in the comment box below.