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CAB Report: A state of disrepair – Why renters deserve a better deal

A recent research report from Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) in England has called for improvements at government level which would better the lives of households living in the private rented sector (PRS) in England.  Whilst the research does not cover the experiences of those renting privately in Northern Ireland, the findings are of relevance and interest particularly since housing figures show that 21% of households in NI now live in the private rented sector.

CAB conducted an online survey with over 2000 PRS tenants who reflect the private rented population and found 3 key areas where renters struggle:

  1. Renters often live in poor conditions
  2. Renters lack even medium-term security
  3. Renters struggle with unfair costs and practices

Renters often live in poor conditions

CAB found that 7 in 10 tenants had experienced 1 or more of the following health and safety problems during their current tenancy:

  • Damp or mould growth
  • Heating broken or not working well enough to heat adequately
  • No hot or cold water
  • Insecure or unlockable windows or doors
  • Rodents or other infestation
  • Faulty wiring

The researchers found that it was, in fact, more common to have experienced 3 or more of these health and safety problems during the current tenancy (30%) than none at all (29%).  4 in 10 tenants reported that they worried about asking for repairs because they didn’t want to receive a negative reaction from the landlord.  

Renters lack medium-term security

The research found that 9 in 10 tenants were offered initial tenancy agreements of 12 months or less. 2 in 5 had an agreement of 6 months or less.  Many tenants wanted a longer tenancy (34%), especially those with children (39%).  Security was a particular concern for households with children, with 59% finding it hard to plan for the future because they knew they may be asked to move with short notice.

Renters struggle with unfair costs and practices

The research comments on the lack of basic financial protection for renters.  In order to access the PRS, households have to deal with letting agent fees and inadequate protection against letting agent bankruptcy.  The median amount that fee-paying tenants had spent on charges to their current letting agent was £400.  CAB found that 1 in 20 tenants had lost money due to letting bankruptcy and fraud.

Improving the private rented sector

Whilst some of the CAB’s recommendations relate only to the English legal system, the findings are of interest in the Northern Ireland context, given the current Review of the Private Rented Sector being carried out by the Department for Communities.  In order to make improvements to the PRS, CAB set out the following tasks for government:

  • Publish guidance to landlords on the maximum acceptable timescales to complete repairs
  • Introduce 3-year family-friendly tenancies for all private rented sector tenants
  • Extend the notice period landlords are required to give for a no-fault eviction
  • Enact a complete ban on any fees to tenants
  • Introduce mandatory client money protection
  • Develop non-court based routes to redress between tenants and landlords

As mentioned, there are currently Proposals for Change to the private rented sector in Northern Ireland out for consultation.  The consultation document tackles a number of themes similar to the CAB’s recommendations, such as proposals to extend the notice period (for all tenancies over 12 months) from 4 weeks to 2 months, ban letting fees and examine the financial case for establishing an independent housing panel in Northern Ireland.

The consultation on the Private Rented Sector in Northern Ireland - Proposals for Change closes on 3rd April 2017.

Tagged In

Fitness, Private Tenancies, Policy, Affordability, Landlord


Lizzie Scott

This article was written on 23 March 2017. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.