It's time we admit that people who are renting in the UK, through choice or necessity, are being treated as second class citizens and widespread action is needed. At present, rarely a day passes without a story in the news about the non-existent rights of renters and the plethora of ways private landlords and letting agents have of exploiting this.
Once again leading the way, Shelter's Letting Away With It survey is currently taking place to gather information from tenants about their experiences in the rented sector. Their Evict Rogue Landlords has 68 council's signed up to it (click here to check if your council is involved) and they are currently campaigning for the government to create legislation for landlords and letting agents. However renters continue to be treated as second class citizens behind homeowners. Reflecting mass public dissatisfaction, a recent YouGov survey found one in four UK citizens said they'd been ripped off by a letting agent, but the government has done nothing to rectify this situation.
The Scottish government is once again putting the UK government to shame by taking a firmer stance on the issue. They implemented a tenancy deposit scheme, where deposits are held by an independent administrator and disputes are also resolved by an independent organisation, which came into full effect last week. They also clarified that all other charges from letting agents except rent and a refundable deposit are illegal. Sadly, companies have found ways around this, including charging higher initial rent and by taking a non-refundable cleaning fee. With Shelter Scotland claiming that up to 90 per cent of letting agents have charged "extortionate and unlawful" fees, the softly-softly approach isn't the answer. If a layperson acts in a criminal manner, they are not granted leniency and it's high time unlawful behaviour from letting agents is ruled over with an iron fist.
Then there are private landlords. Citizens Advice Scotland reported the number of tenants of private landlords who are having their deposit withheld has doubled over the last year. Over the last weekend, I heard two separate stories about victims of private landlords who, without any notice, has parts of their rented property ripped out - in one case bedroom walls and in another case all of the communal facilities including the kitchen, bathroom and even flooring. Both of these individuals are currently unsuccessfully fighting their landlords for a refund of their rent and feel they have no-one to turn to.
Many tenants of private landlords also face safety dangers according to research by Shelter and British Gas released last week, which found one in 10 private tenants in England and Scotland did not receive their mandatory safety inspection - the equivalent of 900,000 people in England and tens of thousands in Scotland. A separate survey by the two organisations found that one in seven landlords didn't even know gas checks were their responsibility.
The National Landlords Association (NLA) announced recently that they were making accreditation training compulsory for landlord members by 2020. Unfortunately membership is not compulsory and costs landlords - if a landlord is ripping off a tenant it is unlikely they would be a member of an organisation promoting good standards - and this training is still seven years away.
With a shortage of social housing and housing association homes around the UK, and the bedroom tax hitting some people in those forms of accommodation hard, there is often no alternative for renters but to put their faith in a letting agent or private landlord. The only guaranteed way at present to avoid the frustrations and exploitation in the rented sector is to get on to the property ladder - which is most probably why the government have been reluctant to implement legislation, what with their admiration of the Thatcher's Right to Buy legacy. Shared Ownership is the most accessible way for renters to get onto the ladder - check out the What House? page on Shared Ownership here and a list of affordable homes UK-wide here.
The London Renters Campaign, a coalition of tenants from Tower Hamlets, Haringey, Hackney, Islington and Lambeth calling for urgent change in the private rented sector, launched a capital-wide "Let Down" campaign last week. These local campaign groups staged a series of events protesting for an end to extortionate letting agent fees, escalating rents and discrimination against people on housing benefit. If more isn't done to improve the situation for tenants I hope we will see renters all over the UK following suit and taking action. Let's bang the drum until we give those in power no choice but to implement equal rights.