Opinion Regulation

Slumlords Я Us

David Rutland
Written by David Rutland

One quarter of private rentals are dumps – and landlords need to take responsibility.

Do you ever wonder why landlords in the UK are being given such a hard time by the government?

The quick answer is: It’s because we deserve it.

And no, it’s not because of the ever increasing rent spiral pushing ever more renters into poverty, or even that we use Section 21 orders on a whim, forcing people out of their homes without an explanation (It’s not the tenants’ home – It’s my property).

Even the notorious Fergus Wilson couldn’t do a worse job at representing landlords as a class than we do ourselves.

It’s a fire and forget mentality that allows so many among us to put a tenant into a property and then ignore everything to do with it until we need to find a new one. We ignore complaints. We ignore requests for maintenance. We do exactly as much as legislation demands (if there’s a realistic chance of enforcement) and not one whit more.

Which is why the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York has published a report showing that a sizable minority of renters are living in what the authors describe as “slum conditions.”

At 189 pages, “The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential,” is a long document, and it’s damning. But don’t worry. We’ve read it so that you won’t have to.

The bottom line is that landlords, on the whole, can’t be trusted. We can’t be trusted to look after our tenants. We can’t be trusted to look after our properties. We can’t be trusted to behave in a way that is not both short-sighted and self-interested.

And the authors aren’t wrong. They point to evidence that the only reason that housing standards are in any way moving upwards is because of recent regulations, and more importantly, enforcement of those regulations.

The review is not an exercise in slamming landlords, and the executive summary states at the outset that it, “Regards the PRS as being neither innately problematic nor innately beneficial.”

Here’s another takeaway from the report: One third of homes in the bottom 20% of the sector and one fifth of homes in the top 20% do not meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard.

Overall, that’s around one quarter of all rented properties which are ‘not decent.’ As in nasty, unhealthy places to live. As in shitholes.

“The principal issue is landlords not undertaking routine maintenance and/or responding in a timely way to requests for repair,” according to Julie Rugg and David Rhodes. “Indeed, tenant expectations in this regard are very low.”

“Tenants – who often view poor management as integral to the experience of renting – see little point in complaining.”

Indeed, take a look a page 106, which briefly covers retaliatory eviction and states that, “Four per cent of renters … said that one reason they left their last rented tenancy was because the landlord or agent was unhappy because the tenant had requested repairs.”

It’s sad.

Back away from your outrage for a moment. Put it in a corner and take a deep breath.

Can you think of any other industry where, having a quarter of your product viewed as ‘non-decent,’ ‘dangerous,’ or ‘unhealthy,’ is the norm?

Would you ever drive in a car again, if that was the standard you expected from your local dealer? Would you ever eat out again knowing that there’s a one in four chance of rats in the restaurant kitchens and roaches in the fridge?

No. It’s not you. Of course it’s not you. All your properties are immaculate and you respond in a timely manner to all of your tenants’ complaints. You’d never chuck a Section 21 notice through the letterbox to dodge your obligations.

From this graph you can see that PRS housing is by far the worst offender when it comes to non-decent dwellings, and that the proportion of non-decent dwellings has been steadily decreasing over the last decade.

But it doesn’t mean we’re improving. We don’t get off the hook that easily.

It’s a statistical illusion. There’s a lot more PRS stock out there (mainly new builds), and the absolute number of non-decent PRS dwellings has shot up to 1.35 million.

We recommend that you read the review yourself. It’s part of what will shape government policy in years to to come. And regardless of how nice your own properties are, will be part of why people cross the street when you tell them what you do for a living.


About the author

David Rutland

David Rutland

With a decades long career as a professional writer, David Rutland has worked as a journalist on local, national, and international newspapers, before embarking as a career as a freelancer.

He has ghostwritten several books, as well as producing travel guides, manuals, humour articles, and more internet blogs than you can shake a stick at.

David maintains offices in East London, but spends most of his time in a shed near Liverpool, where he writes, as well as developing apps for Android.

What people say about him:

Arrogant and abrasive - Alan Davis, Editor in Chief North Wales News Group

An absolute liability - Matt Simms, Editor, Vale advertiser

Are you sure this won't get us all arrested? - Mohana Prabhakar, Editor in Chief, Apex News Group

Go and have a shave. You're all prickly - Mrs Donna Rutland.

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