Millions of people in rented homes are putting off asking their landlord for urgent repairs because they are frightened of eviction.
Research by Citizens Advice, seen by BuzzFeed News, shows that 2 in 5 people in private rented accommodation have waited longer than they should have for their landlord to carry out a repair in the last four years. The situation is putting tenants in danger as they delay solving everything from electrical faults to broken windows and a lack of hot water.
More than 16,000 people went to Citizens Advice in the last year for help with the poor condition of their privately rented homes.
With the soaring price of buying a home pushing more people into an already competitive rental market, many tenants feel their situation is increasingly precarious – and are afraid to assert their rights.
The Grenfell Tower fire, which was started by a faulty Hotpoint fridge freezer, has shown how deadly electrical faults can be. Politicians and tenancy groups want landlords to be forced to carry out electrical safety inspections to guard against fire, similar to the existing regulations on gas checks.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told BuzzFeed News: "These findings are extremely worrying. Given what the Grenfell disaster has shown us about the precariousness of housing safety, the government should be taking every action possible to address this crisis. Too often they are on the side of landlords not renters.
"It's time for real action, including making electrical safety tests compulsory, paid for by landlords. In many cases renters are paying through the nose. They should at least be able to feel safe in their home. Reform is long overdue."
YouGov polling for Citizens Advice shows that 41% of people – equivalent to 1.85 million households – put off asking for repairs for fear of eviction. Half of renters also said they were concerned that their landlord would increase their rent if they continued to complain.
Nearly a third of those surveyed by YouGov simply made repairs themselves, while 14% paid for repairs to rented properties with their own money. One family who asked Citizens Advice for help had already spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a range of problems, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation.
"Homes in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to Citizens Advice for help with. Issues such as broken fittings, faulty electricals, or leaks can make life hard for renters and can even lead to ill health.
"But renters aren't pursuing their rights to repair, because they are worried their landlord will put up their rent or evict them. To add to this, formal routes to redress aren’t being used either because they’re too difficult and expensive."
The research found that more than half of renters who could get compensation said they didn’t want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted. Citizens Advice wants the government to make it easier for people to enforce their rights when their home is in disrepair – and to protect them from any retaliation afterwards.
Private landlords already have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time (typically a month or less, or 24 hours for the most serious cases). A failure to do this can lead to a court order and financial compensation.
But tenants are not using the legislation to protect themselves, because they are too afraid of reprisals and put off by the cost, time, and bureaucracy involved. Only 1% of people who could get compensation take their case to court.
Seb Klier, from the charity Generation Rent, which campaigns on behalf of tenants, said: "The ease with which private renters can be evicted has long stopped them from asserting their rights, including in cases where their landlord should be carrying out repairs on dangerous properties.
"Although regulations have been amended to prevent revenge evictions, this protection is often not known about, not used by local authorities, and only provides protection in specific circumstances."
Generation Rent is also calling for more compulsory safety inspections to protect tenants. Klier said: "Regular inspections of potential dangers, including electrical safety inspections to guard against fire, should be mandatory, and we need to move to a system whereby private landlords are obliged to prove their property is safe before they can let it out."
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the National Landlords Association, said landlords were concerned about the findings. "No one should live in fear of being evicted for raising issues about important repairs in their home, but this is not the way that the vast majority of landlords would respond to such requests."
He added: "This fear is a big concern because tenant safety should come above everything else. Laws to prevent so called retaliatory evictions were introduced to tackle this issue in 2015, yet almost two years down the line we hear the same arguments surfacing again."
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: "If a tenant has concerns about potential health and safety risks in their home, they can ask the local authority to inspect the property, and local authorities have strong powers to require that landlords make necessary improvements."
Emily Dugan is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Dugan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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