Last week, in this general series on housing law, I considered the recent report from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Research which analysed statistics on the housing sector over the past 20 years.
It is clear from that report that the private rented sector is growing in importance in our society.
The speed of its growth in the future will, so the report indicated, depend on the state of the economy, but things don’t look too good just now so a fairly rapid growth is indicated.
The importance of good housing
Housing is important. Very important. Poor housing can have a very detrimental effect in an area, and on the people who live in it.
They are more likely to get ill, which impacts on the National Health Service (poor housing is believed to cost the NHS some £600 million per year), and children living there are less likely to do well at school (and subsequently in life in all too many cases) – to name just two of the possible adverse effects.
It is important for all of us that our housing is in good condition, not just for the people living in it.
The housing providers
Yet this important function is more and more provided by people who know little about the various regulations that apply, considering their property to be merely a financial investment.
Some is provided by people who have no interest whatsoever in the well being of their tenants being purely motivated by getting a maximum return for a minimum outlay.
And a substantial minority of housing is run and managed by landlords whose actions are, or border on, the criminal.
Can we afford to allow this to continue?
Much of the property rented out by PRS landlords is in a good or excellent condition, but this is generally down to the professionalism of the individual landlord concerned.
Many landlords take a pride in their properties, look after them well, and generally have a responsible attitude towards things.
But the others? What happens about them? It is clear, for example from the Battersby Report, that Local Authorities are not up to the task of policing them and enforcing the law.
This is not (before you jump down my throat Ben) really the fault of the Local Authorities. They are underfunded, and do not have the staff.
The trouble is, can we afford to allow this to continue?
Are we not storing up problems for the future as well as, by default, allowing unnecessary suffering by the people unfortunate enough to live in the sub standard private housing?
As well as putting unnecessary strain on our public health services, which we all ultimately pay for?
But we have no reliable national figures on how big the problem is, where exactly the problems lie or who the problem landlords are.
At some stage we have to say the dreaded words ‘landlord registration’.
The case for landlord registration
Landlords (on the whole) don’t want a landlords register. They consider it to be a gross intrusion on their privacy.
I can understand that. But there is a strong argument to say that the needs of society should take precedence over the wishes of individual landlords.
It is very difficult for government to plan or do anything about improving standards in the private rented sector if they don’t know how big it is or where it is.
If we just had a record of how many landlords and properties there are in the private sector (as suggested here), then at least more accurate studies and forecasts could be made.
We would have a clearer idea of what we were talking about and of the potential costs in dealing with it.
The case for landlord licensing
Having a landlords register would also allow us to introduce some form of licensing – requiring landlords to undergo training and ensure that property is kept up to a certain standard, as a condition of being allowed to continue as a landlord.
I’ll be looking at this further next week.