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Over a third of private renters forced to live in dangerous conditions for fear of eviction

Posted 19 Apr 2021

Huge increase in renters approaching Shelter for advice as the organisation urges government to bring forward ground-breaking Renters’ Reform Bill  

New figures by YouGov released today show 39% of private renters – equivalent to 3.2m people – say they have been forced to live in dangerous or unhealthy conditions because they fear complaining to their landlord will trigger a retaliatory eviction.  

And almost half (46%) of private renters - equivalent to 3.8m people - whose homes have needed repairs or improvements said they have not tried to resolve these owing to these fears. 

Because private landlords can evict tenants by serving a section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice, where they don’t have to give a reason, losing a private tenancy remains a leading cause of homelessness.  

And while the coronavirus pandemic has made our homes more important than ever, 35% of private renters say their housing situation has made lockdowns harder to cope with. A fifth (21%) had suffered with damp, mould, condensation, poor insulation or excess cold in the past month alone.  

In light of these worrying findings and ahead of the Queen’s Speech next month, housing charity Shelter is urging Boris Johnson to honour his pledge to deliver a Renters’ Reform Bill that transforms private renting. This should include abolishing section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions which would give renters the security they need to challenge poor conditions. And creating a National Landlord Register, which would force landlords to prove properties meet essential safety standards. 

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said:“Our broken renting system is overdue serious reform. For years, renters have paid through the nose for neglected properties, left powerless and paralysed by the fear that complaining about basic repairs could see them out on the streets. 

“Over the past year, our homes have been our first line of defence against coronavirus. Yet this pandemic has exposed the grim reality that too many of the country’s 11 million renters - including key workers, families and the elderly - wake up every day to mould, pests and dangerous hazards. 

“The Renters’ Reform Bill offers us a once-in-a generation opportunity to transform private renting and create a fairer safer system for all renters - we must seize it with both hands.” 

Between March 2020 and March 2021, Shelter has seen a 35% increase amongst private renters who are contacting the charity’s helpline and web chat services for advice about poor conditions. 

Case study 1: Bonnie Martin, aged 52 from Devon

Bonnie lived with her two children in a two-bedroom property in constant disrepair for 12 years. Whilst living there, her son’s bedroom ceiling collapsed and the boiler exploded. She left the property in March this year and is currently staying with friends. Bonnie is a key worker, caring for people with disabilities.  

Bonnie said: “Living in that place was awful and took a toll on us. There was damp everywhere, badly fitted doors and sometimes in winter we had to wear coats indoors. The bathroom walls collapsed three times, the bedroom ceiling collapsed on my youngest son, plus the cover for the old boiler - which constantly broke down - flew off at me after the agent asked me to re-start it. It’s a miracle I wasn’t injured.  

“The bathroom was black with mould, so a de-humidifier was plugged in constantly. The kitchen walls were riddled with damp and tiles would fall off. The fridge was in a sorry state and the rickety cooker had loose, hanging metal that would block you putting food in the oven. I always reported these issues to the agency, but it always took so long to get anything done. Their workmen would often do a shoddy job, so I’d get someone else to fix it.    

“I was always anxious about asking for repairs, in case the landlord increased my rent - which he did one year. It wasn’t my responsibility to fix these faults and not being listened to felt very degrading – it made me feel worthless. Everyone has the right to live somewhere safe. Renters should be treated properly and fairly, not going through hell like we did.” 

Case study 2: Garry Champkins, aged 50 from Harlow, Essex

Garry is a bus driver and rented a property with extensive disrepair for three years with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Problems included constant mould and a broken fence. Because of the conditions, Garry and his family left the property in March this year. 

Garry said: “Our family had a living nightmare renting that property. We lost count of how often we complained about the black mould which was absolutely everywhere – rising through the floor, in the lounge, up the walls, seeping from skirting boards, behind cabinets and in both bedrooms. Every time it rained, water dripped down the chimney.   

“Our so-called landlord tried blaming the mould on us, instead of fixing the blatant lack of ventilation – he even asked us to leave windows open in mid-winter. We just felt so let down. The landlord said these were our problems to fix, problems we were forced to live with for years. And when bad weather blew over our garden fence, I had to fix it.   

“After everything our landlord put us through, he took a chunk of our deposit for carpet cleaning - even though we cleaned them immaculately. How we were treated was a disgrace, but we felt so powerless. The landlord will probably just hide the problems and the next tenants will suffer too. But that can’t be right, something has to change.” 

For further information on Shelter’s Renters' Reform Bill campaign, please visit Any private renters worried about their home can contact Shelter for free expert advice by visiting


Notes to editors:

All survey results are based on a survey of 3,588 people in England (553 currently private renting), online, weighted, 18+, 7th-9th April 2021 or on a YouGov survey of 3,603 people in England (551 currently private renting), online, weighted, 18+, 28th Jan - 1st Feb 2021. Numbers of people are estimates calculated by Shelter using the survey results in conjunction with official statistics on population sizes. Shelter estimates there to be 8.2 million adult private renters in England, using analysis of published English Housing Survey (MHCLG) figures for 2019/20 and raw data from the same survey dated 2018/19.  

Tables and additional breakdowns on the YouGov survey questions are available upon request. 

About Shelter: Shelter is the UK’s leading housing and homelessness charity and believes that everyone should have a safe home. It helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing and homelessness through its free emergency helpline, webchat service, and local advice, support and legal services. And it campaigns to make sure that one day no one will have to turn to Shelter for help. For free and expert housing advice visit: