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Housing

Private rented properties should undergo a ‘Property MOT’

York University’s Centre for Housing Policy finds that millions of renters have been let down by “poor policy-making and lack of strategy”

Rented properties should be given an annual ‘Property MOT’ to ensure they’re fit for habitation, according to housing experts.

York University’s Centre for Housing Policy suggested the measure in its review into the private rented sector, unveiled today. The Evolving Private Rented Sector: its Contribution and Potential proposes that, much like a mechanic giving your motor the once-over every three years, independent inspectors should be introduced to do the same to rental properties every year.

The idea would act as a tax-deductible business cost for landlords and see electrical and gas safety certificates, energy efficiency reports and more forced to hit a basic minimum standard.

“Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards,” said report co-author Dr Julie Rugg. “A ‘Property MOT’ would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards won’t lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution.”

The report, which was funded by the Nationwide Foundation, made a slew of other suggestions after warning that welfare reform is creating a “slum tenure” at the bottom end of the market. For the most vulnerable, one in three homes let are classed as non-decent – with many tenants unable to cover rent without help from statutory or third sector agencies – while that figure falls to one in five at the top end. Rather than a problem borne from old housing stock, the study found that the condition of properties worsened the longer a tenancy went on, suggesting the problem lays with poor property management.

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Current regulations were found to be “confusing and contradictory” and “failing at multiple levels” for both tenants and landlords with opportunities to streamline them being missed. The report also found that policy interventions were increasingly targeted towards higher and middle-income renters who could not afford to buy while those on the lowest incomes received little or no help.

“For years politicians have ignored the needs of private renters, resulting in a market that all too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes,” said Leigh Pearce, chief executive of the Nationwide Foundation. “It’s time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting. We hope this review will be the start of a cross-party conversation to make that happen.”

The government axed plans for fixed-term three-year tenancies last week and warned that they are tracking landlords who do not maintain their properties. An MHCLG spokesperson said: “Landlords should be in no doubt that they have a responsibility to provide decent homes or face the consequences.

“We have launched a national database of offenders to keep track of the small minority of landlords that are renting out unsafe and substandard accommodation, and have introduced banning orders for the most serious offences.”

The report has been welcomed by National Landlords Association CEO Richard Lambert, who said: “Everyone calls for ‘evidence-based policy’, but too often we have policy-based evidence. This report clearly states the case for better understanding of landlords, their motivations and their business plans, recognising that neither landlords nor tenants are a homogenous group.

Image: Yuki Mok/PA

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