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Would regulating landlords improve the rental market?

Holding a model house in hands

As high house prices push Britain into becoming a nation of renters, the rights of tenants often seem to be left out. Do we need more regulation to keep rogue private landlords from taking their tenants for granted?

It’s over six months now since my housemates and I scrubbed the carpets, defrosted the freezer and fished the beer bottles from the pond in the garden of our student house.

The memories of sleeping in a poorly insulated converted garage still linger, and I think I’m entitled to make my debut Conversation a bit of a rant.

Students are encouraged to choose their house at the beginning of their second term of university. It’s a mad rush, competition is fierce and campus is rife with rumours, such as a housing shortage, burglary in certain areas and evil landlords. Fortunately, only one of these rumours turned out to be true for me.

Rogue landlords exploiting tenants

Fresh faced, we embarked on the grown-up process of renting a property. The least damp-smelling house won the day, with lovely cream carpets and a converted attic room. Our smugness was short lived. We arrived in September to a house that clearly had not benefited from a professional clean. I found a novelty wig in the cupboard under the stairs, and a whole host of debris under my bed.

Of course, worse was to come. The walls behind a fitted wardrobe were black with mould, rising damp in the living room, a broken boiler for ten days as the snow set in, and my personal favourite: being charged an imaginary parking fee of £889 for allowing my housemate’s boyfriend to park his van on our drive.

We were a naïve bunch in need of a responsible landlord to smooth our transition in to independence. This was not to be. The damp was merely painted over, and we were ordered to ‘keep the window open at all times’ – hardly realistic with our budget for heating.

Our boiler concerns were addressed by his ‘mate,’ who only fitted us in at the end of his long day of paid work. As for the van, after checking our contract and consulting with a (family friend) lawyer, we sent them a rather official letter. The issue was never mentioned again, proof that this was just another way to milk us for cash.

Do we need regulation?

The current government scrapped plans to regulate private landlords, stating that ‘the vast majority of England’s private tenants are happy with the service they receive’. I am yet to meet a recent graduate without a similar tale of woe and find this a little hard to stomach.

As students rarely stay in a property for more than a year, there is little impetus to pursue complaints. Sure enough, a chance meeting with the new tenants of our property confirmed that they were in a similarly outrageous situation to our own. They were looking at a £1,000 fee per boyfriend that regularly stayed the night.

Like most of my peer group, I expect to live in rented accommodation for many years to come. Indeed, the number of new private tenants increased by 24% in 2011.

There are many fantastic and accommodating landlords out there, but this isn’t the experience across the board. Which raises the question – do private landlords need to be regulated? Without regulation, tenants at least need more support to know what to look for, what to ask, and which landlords to avoid.

And this isn’t just a problem for students; it’s a problem for the whole rental market. Although I live in a ‘ grown-up’ house now, my boiler’s been down for a month. When my landlord will get it fixed, who knows.

Comments
Member

I sympathise.

I think the current regulations have improved, the deposit holding companies are making disputes much easier to resolve, however, there are no safeguards for people experiencing issues during their tenancy.

My tenant who has recently moved out, has left me without paying the last months rent, needing a full repaint and all floors replacing. She also left her sofas outside on the street and scarpered without giving me a forwarding address. But I have tracked her down to where she works and she will be getting a bill shortly 🙂

Anyway, during her tenancy, if something broke, she told me, I said to her to get someone in to fix it (I was working abroad) and she should just take it out of the rent. That worked fine for me, but my friend is in a similar position to you at present. Whilst they have had no hot water or shower since they moved in (3 months now) it just turned into arguments between insurance companies as to who was going to fix it.

Personally, I get it fixed and then worry about the finance.

Maybe that’s what the new regulation should be, if something critical needs fixing immediately, then the Landlord should have to pay for the fix, immediately, fully. Liability should then be discussed after the fault has been fixed.

Member

Something needs to be done. You shouldn’t need to threaten a landlord with legal action to make him produce evidence he’s lodged the deposits 3 months after he’s banked the cheques. Similarly he said he’d have coat hooks added before moving in, yet there were still none as we moved out a year later.

I feel sorry for the good honest landland/lady as they’ll be hit but any changes when its the bad ones that need stringing up.
And similarly not all tenants are “good” either. I know of one person who rented he house out whilst working abraod and left it with an agency. On returning to the UK his stuff he had stored in the locked attic had been sold done the local car boot sales over several months to fund the tenants drug habit. Not once did the agency visit to check up on the tenants as they paid the rent on time and never complained about anything. Oh and don’t ask about the state of the place when they moved out, needless to say it was disgusting.

Member

I completely agree Emily. During the 4 years that I was renting in Bristol, I occupied about 8 different properties due to a multitude of reasons. The most common though, was the landlord/lady taking me, the tenant for granted. On top of all of the very valid points you have raised, I believe that the landlord has a duty to make sure that their tenants are happy there. I had one houemate who was a control freak and made my life hell. After a few weeks of moving in, it emerged my SIX predecessors had ‘done a runner’ from the property because they couldn’t abide living with such a difficult person. I raised my concerns with my landlord as I didn’t want to have to do a runner and lose my deposit (which, for the record he hadn’t put into a deposit protection scheme). The landlord did nothing, so I tried to put up with it, but things got worse and worse to the point where I stayed away from the house or cooped up in the room. All in all I made complainst to the landlord on 4 separate occasions before also leaving without notice, thus losing my deposit.

More on topic, I had a live in landlord at a different house, and he was hardly ever there. It had no bath and just a shower room. The shower broke and he couldn’t be bothered to repair it for about two weeks, so I had to make other arrangements but was still expected to pay full rent. I left this property soon after as well, and again lost my deposit because I wasn’t willing to put up with such a terrible landlord.

Member

Even if the housing market for homebuyers returns to historic levels there will always be a need for rented accommodation for certain categories of resident – university students and contract workers being obvious cases. It essential therefore that enforceable standards are introduced to give both parties to the contract immediate redress in the case of fundamental breaches on either side. No property should be left without heating, hot water and cooking facilities and any property should be sanitary and free from mould and damp. It is particularly tough for university students at the moment because the relative availability of decent tenancies has reduced considerably under pressure from the decline in owner-occupation, the creation of new households, and the rise in student numbers unmatched by an increase in the supply of suitable accommodation whether halls of residence or private tenancies. The expansion of student numbers is not just in the universities; many city colleges and other higher education establishments are attracting students who might have stayed at school until they were 18+ and who want to live away from home [or might have to because local campuses have closed or convenient public transport to their chosen local college is not available]. Whenever a market is distorted exploitation occurs. Regulation is one way to fix it but it might drive up the cost of renting.

Member

I agree with all your points. Responsibility lies with both tenants and landlords to upkeep the property, but relationships can easily deteriorate on both sides if there isn’t proper communication, which throws up the whole other issue of absent landlords, quite a common complaint.

Enforcing standards would be beneficial all round when it comes to the dreaded time of releasing the deposit. If a transparent code of conduct was adhered to, disputes would be far easier to resolve. We were charged for the re-carpeting of the entire house, despite the fact workmen and our landlord regularly wore dirty shoes in the house, and there it had clearly not been changed for a few years. Searching the internet for what constitutes acceptable wear and tear proved inconclusive, and we all footed the bill for what, potentially, was a necessary improvement given the age of the carpet.

Student’s are particularly vulnerable in the rental market as they are only in a property for a year or so. By the time our deposit was released, I had a house mate living in Australia, and two in France. Everyone had moved on and it was almost impossible to make a case to contest. Furthermore, despite living in a damp house, we were far more inclined to ‘put up and shut up’ because we knew we only had a few months left, and we really wanted to maintain a good relationship in order to preserve our deposit!

What would a sensible system of regulation look like to you?

Member

I had a similarly bad experience. Upon arriving in my new flat at the start of second year, I found blood under the fridge (until this day I still don’t know if this was blood from meat products or human blood!), counted seven holes in various room walls, and the place had blatantly not been cleaned. Upon complaint, we were told that because of the additional furniture left in the flat by previous tenants (a lamp and a small fold down table), the cleaners were unable to do their jobs.

This wasn’t the end! When we decided to move into a cheaper house at the end of the year, we chose to invite the landlord round to inspect the flat after our the end of term clean. Our idea was that if he wasn’t satisfied, we could address his concerns and clean again before we moved out.This would avoid a large majority of our deposit being lost on supposed ‘cleaning’. We invited, he inspected, and no concerns were raised. He actually complemented us on how well we had maintained the place.

And what do you know, upon two weeks of leaving we were slapped with a cleaning bill of £1,000! The landlord stated that although we had cleaned the flat, the carpets suffered damage from our living there that could not be remedied with simple hovering. You can’t win!

Member

Surely we can blame Thatcher for this – Before Thatcher rent regulation was reasonable and rents generally affordable especially in East London where I lived and worked. Now too many “buy to rent” landlords hike rents without restriction because they know – due to Thatcher selling off the council houses at a discount to rich tenants – that councils are forced to pay the exorbitant rents demanded to fulfil their duty to house the poor. Remember Thatcher stopped councils building new houses with the receipts of the house sales decimating housing stock – The root cause of the problem there are not enough houses period..

A flat that used to rent here for roughly a third of income is now completely unaffordable at 150% of income. A great many renters I knew were forced to move into very sub-standard accommodation.

Any system can be exploited – but Thatcher made it praiseworthy.

Member

If a tenant does not like where they live the answer is simple, move, they are not in prison, they are not forced to stay there and can seek alternative accommodation.
Use the last months rent to pay down on the new place and move, there are numerous rent warranty schemes that will allow them to take on a new property without a deposit.

This argument is always weighed towards the plight of the tenant. Rouge landlords are a plague, but fortunately uncommon (considering the amount of rental property in the UK), but rouge tenants are not. According to agencies and landlords I have spoken to about 1 in 5 tenancies end with damage, theft, arrears or just left in a horrible state.
The root of this is that people just do not like paying rent, they feel as if by paying for somewhere to live they have somehow been cheated. They have spent a great deal of money but walk away with nothing to show but memories of a home they no longer have. One of the most popular statements is, well I have been paying his Mortgage. This resentment manifests itself at the end of the tenancy with the tenant doing something to ‘get back at the landlord’.

We rarely hear about the many landlords who have homes repossessed because of rental non payments, or thousands of pounds of damage caused, or had to pay unpaid utility and council bills, who are attacked and abused by tenants.