Citizens Advice response – Landlords and tenants need clearer standards

by Readers Question

13:26 PM, 21st August 2019
About a month ago

Citizens Advice response – Landlords and tenants need clearer standards

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Citizens Advice response – Landlords and tenants need clearer standards

The second Citizens Advice article can be viewed if you click here:

“Landlords and tenants need clearer standards
Why we’re calling for a national housing body for the private rented sector”

Below is a breakdown of what I believe to be errors and misinformation in the above-named report, of which you may not be aware, as well as some further queries.

Some key general points:

  • It would help if the data upon which you make your claims were made public, so that the nature of the surveys could be fairly scrutinised.
  • The claims you make are completely at odds with the data in the English Housing Survey and English Private Landlord Survey.
  • My concern is that for whatever reason, this report appears to be extraordinarily biased and looks to be trying to bend facts around a story rather than studying facts and then drawing conclusions.

Overview: 

‘No Fault’ Section 21 Notices – are they really ‘No Fault’ ?

Most Section 21 Notices are served due to rent arrears and actually, around 90% of tenancies are ended at the tenant’s request.

Disrepair / Repairs and Maintenance – 82.2% of Private Tenants were not dissatisfied with their Landlord on this point

Private Landlords are rated measurably better at this than Social Housing providers

Legal Obligations – EPLS 2018 Data suggests Landlords are Highly Compliant

Gas Safety Inspections –    up to 99.6% Compliant

Working Smoke Alarms –   up to 99.6% Compliant

Carbon Monoxide Alarms – up to 97.2% Compliant

Private Landlords versus Social Housing:

Private Landlords consistently get higher approvals than Social Housing Providers

To look at the facts in more detail:

Let’s start with ‘No Fault’ Section 21 Notices.  There is very little evidence of this being a common event at all.  Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Private Tenancies are ended by the Tenant giving Notice (88%) (actually, in effect, around 90% see below).  The Landlords only giving Notice in 12% of Cases (EHS 2017 2018). Research from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) finds that Landlords are 5 times more likely to use Section 21 than Section 8 to end a Tenancy despite 83% of Section 21 Notices being served due to rent arrears:

David Smith, the RLA’s Policy Director, said:

“Landlords’ concerns over scrapping Section 21 remain unchanged ………….

“Section 21 notices are not used for no reason; our research found that of those who had used the process, 84 per cent (83% in RLA Report July 2019 ?) had used it because of tenant rent arrears, 56 per cent because of damage to a property and 51 per cent because of anti-social behaviour. This is backed up by this week’s English Housing Survey which found that only 12 per cent of private tenancies were ended by the landlord. It is mostly used as the Section 8 process and court system are not fit for purpose.”

Additionally the RLA research revealed:

“In fact, rather than landlords seeking to evict tenants by this route 26% said that they had served a Section 21 notice at the tenant’s request – to enable them to seek social housing to avoid them being classed as intentionally homeless.”

Therefore, with only 12% of private tenancies being ended by landlords (using either Section 8 or Section 21) and roughly a quarter of these (26%) serving Section 21 notices at the tenant’s request, this results in a total of around 90% of tenancies being ended by the tenant, whether directly or indirectly.

A ‘No Fault’ Section 21 is perhaps similar to a ‘No Fault’ Divorce – whereby there are clearly reasons why the relationship has ended but the landlord is not looking to make a bad situation worse by applying Court processes, which costs everyone in time and money and further sours the relationship.  A Landlord who serves a Section 21 Notice on a tenant who is in persistent, or increasing arrears, or for other good reasons, is almost inevitably drawing a line under their own losses whilst giving the Tenant a ‘Clean Sheet’ to start afresh elsewhere.

It makes no business sense to just evict reliable paying tenants (unless there are other problems such as anti social behaviour, or property neglect). The stories that have circulated regarding gratuitous evictions seem to be rare and extreme cases – the costs of even a fairly brief ‘void’ period, (lost rent, cleaning and preparation, advertising and letting fees along with compliance costs etc) would necessitate rent rises for the next tenant at levels simply not seen in the UK generally (I appreciate that there are a few areas – of London in particular – where this is reported to have happened).

Chart: ONS Index of Private Housing Rental Prices (Year to June 2019 rise was 1.3%)

Where landlords have evicted illegally, or behaved in a way that amounts to criminality, we all want them to be prosecuted appropriately – I’m sure we can all agree on that.

Regarding Standards:  ‘Tenants face widespread problems’

You then claim that 60% of renters have experienced ‘Disrepair’

If I understand you correctly (from your Getting The House in Order document), you mean 60% of renters had some kind of repair and maintenance need during their tenancy?  ‘Disrepair’ is a very loaded term and implies neglect, or some kind of deliberate avoidance of responsibility.

Repairs and maintenance are the stuff of life and

Private Landlords are By Far The Best at this !!

Let’s have a look at the facts: English Housing Survey 2017 2018 Table FA5431  (also in FA5423)

Satisfaction with the way landlord / freeholder deals with repairs:

Dissatisfaction levels amongst Social Renters are much higher than for Private Renters:

26.0%   of Social Renters are Dissatisfied with the way their Landlord deals with repairs

16.8% of Private Renters are Dissatisfied with the way their Landlord deals with repairs

 Looking at the issue the other way around:

Only 65.8% of Social Renters are Satisfied with 73.4% of Private Renters expressing Satisfaction

Of those who were neither Satisfied, nor Dissatisfied, Private Landlords scored 9.8% making it perfectly justifiable to say that 82.2% of Private Renters were Not Dissatisfied with the way their Landlord deals with repairs whilst only 74% of Social Renters say the same.

If we then look at Table FT5421 (Survey of English Housing 1994 to 2007/8 and the English Housing Survey 2008 to date):

We see that over the last 25 Years at least, Private Landlords are rated with the lowest levels of Dissatisfaction – Every Time – and almost every time with the highest Satisfaction Levels

If we look at Table FA5401 Satisfaction with Accommodation:

(English Housing Survey 2017 2018 full household sample)

We see the same pattern with Private Rented Accommodation getting the higher approvals in every one of the ten years covered in the table.

So why are Private Landlords getting such a pasting in the Press?

No one would try to claim everything is perfect, it is not – but Private Landlords let and manage more of the oldest and most challenging housing stock in the UK  and they did not get the Billions of pounds of Government Grants that went to Social Housing Providers to make improvements to thermal and comfort standards etc.

Additionally, you make 3 very contentious claims:

You say: “Landlords aren’t meeting other legal obligations either”

Followed by:

  • 1 in 4 Landlords haven’t carried out a gas safety inspection in all of their properties
  • 1 in 4 Landlords haven’t ensured there are smoke alarms on every floor of their properties
  • 1 in 3 Tenants with a solid fuel burning appliance don’t have a carbon monoxide alarm

You have not made the surveys and underlying data on which you base these claims available for scrutiny – please do so now.

These claims are not supported by the data in the English Private Landlords Survey (EPLS) 2018

– although the questions asked are slightly different – despite that, the EPLS 2018 suggests the 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 claims are unlikely to be correct – publish your surveys complete with a copy of the questionnaire and all the data tables so we can see.

Gas Safety Inspections:

The EPLS 2018 data throws great doubt on your assertion that 1 in 4 Landlords are not carrying out Gas Safety Checks at their properties. (we will need different survey questions to fully unravel this and the points below)

EPLS 2018 Data records that:  0.4% of Private Landlords and their Agents stated that, for their most recent let, they had not carried out a gas safety check. The remaining 99.6% either ticked the box to confirm that they had carried out the check, or ticked the box which covers both ‘Don’t Know’ and ‘Not Applicable’.  We simply can’t tell if some respondents ‘Don’t Know’ but bearing in mind that around 20% of Private Rented Properties do not have a gas supply – i.e. ‘Not Applicable’ – this on its own could account for the 12.4% of landlords and agents who ticked that box.  In addition, the fact that the Technical Report to filling in the EPLS Questionnaire recorded that the survey (80 Questions) took on average, between 10 and 19 minutes to complete (so only seconds for each answer) – makes it entirely possible that Landlords ticked the ‘Don’t Know / N/A’ box without questioning, or fully understanding the implications of ticking this box and the way the data might be used. The EPLS and EHS Questionnaires need to be amended in the future so that these questions are answered unambiguously.

Working Smoke Alarms:

Again the EPLS 2018 data strongly contradicts your assertions with same the proviso  – the question is slightly different.

EPLS 2018 data says that 98.6% of landlords and agents ensured their property had a working smoke alarm on every floor of their property on the first day of the tenancy for their most recent letting. Only 0.5% reported that they had not ensured this and 1.0% said that they either ‘Did not Know’ or that the question was ‘Not Applicable’ – it is hard to see why the question is ‘Not Applicable’ but the 1 in 4 claim in your report is in direct conflict with this level of reported compliance. (combined landlord and agent data results in 100.1% presumably due to rounding)

Carbon Monoxide Alarms:

The EPLS data demonstrates very effectively here the flaw in the survey questionnaire – the answers ‘Don’t Know’ and ‘Not Applicable’ are two very different things and should not be in the same box.  A property without any solid fuel burning appliances needs no Carbon Monoxide detector and so the answer is ‘Don’t Know / Not Applicable’ – meaning fully compliant.  69.8% of landlords and their agents report having ensured that their most recent let had a working carbon monoxide alarm and 27.3% responded ‘Don’t Know /Not Applicable’ with 2.9% reporting that they had not. Total compliance with this requirement is, therefore, up to 97.2%  It is disappointing that as many as 2.9% of landlords and agents are not getting this right but the 1 in 3 claim made in your report is in need of more explanation.  (combined landlord and agent data results in 100.1% presumably due to rounding)

On almost all measures Private Landlords are doing consistently better than Social Landlords – it is important to look at the facts carefully and make sure that any claims made publicly are accurate.

Three things we can learn from all the debate and discussion are that:

  1. There is not enough housing in the UK – whether privately, or socially owned it makes no difference because –
  1. Housing provision and maintenance and administration is expensive – however you do it.

You are either paying salaries to Housing Association / Local Authority staff, or to self employed Private Landlords providing their services.  Local Housing Allowance (LHA) was mathematically designed from the beginning to always drag down the level of support for those claiming benefits and now, especially after the 2011 freezing, is a major obstacle to those seeking housing in the Private sector where market rent applies rather than the (quite rightly) subsidised rents paid in the Social Sector. Social rents are subsidised by different mechanisms but ultimately by the tax payer – however LHA, is also a subsidy paid for by the tax payer but not at the right level. If we want people to be able to rent equally in both the Social and Private sector, we need to have a tax and support system that works equally for everyone.

  1. The third point derives from the second – Housing provision is complex and hard to get right – Private Landlords do it measurably better than Social, or Local authority Landlords but everyone would like to do it better.

We can all agree with you that simplifying the ever changing myriad regulations and processes would be a very good idea.

Jon



Comments

Heather G.

12:23 PM, 26th August 2019
About 4 weeks ago

Great rebuttal, Jon. Thanks.


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