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Housing: Private Rented Sector

Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to protect tenants in the private rented sector.

My Lords, the Government are committed to creating a bigger, better private rented sector. We are empowering tenants through information, including our How to rent guide, and legislation to require transparency of letting agent fees while avoiding excessive regulation that would burden good landlords and raise rents. We have also taken action to tackle the minority of rogue landlords by legislating to prevent retaliatory evictions and providing £6.7 million to tackle rogue landlords and beds in sheds.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will be aware of the recent Citizens Advice report which showed that 750,000 households live in substandard rented accommodation, presumably owned by the rogue landlords the Minister was talking about, and that this substandard accommodation includes damp, rat infestations and the threats of fires and falls. What are the Government going to do to ensure that private landlords meet their responsibilities, and will not the Government’s policy of the enforced sale of housing association homes only make the situation much worse?

My Lords, the Government are ensuring that private landlords do not welch on their obligation to do work that needs to be done in terms of health and safety and substandard accommodation, and that they will not be able to evict tenants should they ask for that work to be done.

My Lords, one of the problems is not knowing who the landlords are. Some suggest that there ought to be a national register of landlords, but the good ones might register while the bad ones will not bother and thus remain below the radar. Surely a better way is if all new tenants, who are required by law to complete a council tax registration form, put on that form the name, address and contact details of their landlords; then, councils would build up over time a complete picture of all the landlords in their area.

My Lords, one of the areas of concern in the private rented sector is houses in multiple occupation—HMOs. In areas where it can be demonstrated that licensing is needed, it is put in place and councils therefore know where some of those HMO landlords are. The Government intend to expand that.

My Lords, I press the Minister again about the quality and maintenance of houses in the private rented sector. I know of a landlord who refused to mend a leaking roof, to the detriment, obviously, of his tenants. The landlord lived in South Africa and had no interest at all in undertaking the repairs. I press the Minister again to say what she is planning to do about it.

My Lords, I myself have been a private landlord of a house in multiple occupation and know that, if a landlord refuses to do something, the tenant can inform the council. The council can come out and insist that the landlord does the work. If the house is in such a state that it is not fit for occupancy, the landlord has to make provision for alternative accommodation for those tenants in the interim.

My Lords, if I heard the term correctly, the Minister used the inappropriate term “welching”. Will she define it, please?

In all sincerity, I did not. There is a term, “to welch on an agreement”. I meant it as no insult. I simply meant to not meet one’s obligations.

Is my noble friend aware that those of us who were in local government in the 1960s lived through the Rachman and De Lusignan eras, and that at that time local authorities such as the London Borough of Islington, where I was chairman of the housing committee, had to have a register of all rented accommodation? If there is a real problem at the moment, surely that is something Her Majesty’s Government should look at, and they should authorise local authorities to compile such a register. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with the sale of housing association properties to their tenants. The same scare was put up when we proposed selling council houses.

I agree with the noble Lord that this has nothing to do with the sale of housing association homes. I think there will have been more council ownership of houses back in the 1960s. There are now a number of ways to guard against substandard accommodation, and tenants have more rights through various mechanisms than ever before.

I say to noble Lords opposite that I did not realise that, in using the term “welch”, I was insulting anybody. I do apologise if any bad feeling was caused through the use of that term.

My Lords, following up the last question to the Minister, is she aware that only 30% of council houses sold under right to buy remain with their original purchaser and most of the rest have gone into buy to let or been sold on, and, in places such as Norfolk, have been bought as second homes? Therefore, surely she accepts that, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, there is a very real connection between what her Government are proposing for housing association properties and what will be available for affordable rented accommodation.

My Lords, once someone exercises their right to buy, it is up to them whether they rent the property out. If they choose to sell it on within a five-year period, some or all of the discount can be clawed back. But once a tenant has purchased their home under right to buy, it is their house.