Two million private renters put up with poor conditions to find a home

Posted 06 May 2022

More than one in six private renters in England – equivalent to two million people – were forced to accept poor conditions to find somewhere they could rent, new research from Shelter shows.

With the government’s Queen’s Speech next week, the charity has exposed the sorry state of private renting. Shelter’s shocking YouGov poll reveals millions of private renters have endured dangerous conditions in their current home, such as mould (42%), broken boilers (31%), pests (14%) and electrical hazards (11%), within the last year.

Even worse, when private renters raised a maintenance issue that needed fixing, 17% – equivalent to 1.9 million people – had to wait over a month for their landlord or letting agent to start dealing with the request.

In a bid to ensure the government pushes ahead with its long promised rental reforms, the charity and creative agency Pablo have created a satirical video, “Only Choice Lettings”, to illustrate the raw deal so many renters are getting. While the letting agency is fictional, the properties are based on true stories reported to Shelter by private renters.

In the video, the letting agent, played by comedian Rory Marshall, relentlessly tries to rent out properties to prospective tenants. At first glance, the listings look like a good deal but as the agent shares more detail the customers are shocked by the terrible landlord behaviour and dangerous conditions of the properties. For example, there’s a Victorian flat that boasts all the original features, including asbestos. The public can view the video online.

Every day, Shelter’s frontline services support private renters who are forced to live in dangerous or unhealthy conditions because of a lack of regulation. The charity believes renting reforms are long overdue to help drive up standards. Shelter is urging the government to deliver a Renters’ Reform Bill. The bill must make private renting safer and fairer by introducing a national landlord register to help drive up standards and by banning section 21 no-fault evictions to give renters the security to challenge poor conditions.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “Landlords and letting agents have got away with cutting corners for far too long because renters are powerless to challenge them. Tenants are sick of paying through the nose for terrible rentals because they have no other choice.

“Every day our frontline services hear from renters stuck living in nightmare situations, too scared to complain for fear they’ll be kicked out. No-one should be stuck living in mouldy homes that make them ill or have to put up with landlords who turn up unannounced.

“Private renting is broken – and the only way to fix it is by strengthening tenants’ rights so they can stand up to bad landlords and challenge poor conditions. The government must keep its promise by introducing a Renters’ Reform Bill this year that will scrap ‘no fault’ evictions and bring in a national landlord register. It’s the only way to transform private renting for good.”

CASE STUDY: Nathan, 30, who now works on Shelter’s emergency helpline and whose story features in the video, rented a basement flat where the boiler was left broken for 18 months. During that time, the landlord provided Nathan with an electric heater and keys to another flat he owned in the block for him to shower in. One day, Nathan was disturbed by a stranger while showering. It turned out the landlord had given Nathan the key to another flat he was renting out without asking the tenant’s permission. Nathan has since moved out of the property.

Speaking about his experience, Nathan said: “I called the landlord daily about the broken boiler and he’d always make an excuse about when he’d sort it. That was until his whirlwind idea of giving us the keys to the flat above. When I tell people about it, they might think it’s funny that someone walked in on me in the shower, but it really isn’t. The landlord handed out the keys to someone’s flat to a stranger!

“Renters have gotten used to living in terrible conditions because we think it’s normal. I hear cases like mine all the time in my job, tenants just feel like we have to put up with it because we have no other choice. Everyone should have a right to live in a home that is safe and decent. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. It’s high time that the government acted to fix private renting.”   

The public can watch the “Only Choice Lettings” video online and support Shelter’s Enough is Enough campaign calling for the broken renting system to be fixed by signing its petition.

Anyone who is worried about losing their home can contact Shelter for free and expert advice by visiting www.shelter.org.uk/get_help.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

About the research: All figures are based on a YouGov survey for Shelter of 1,029 Private Renters in England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 1st – 11th April 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all private renting adults in England (aged 18+). Population figured have been calculated by Shelter using English Housing Survey data. 

Respondents were asked when they had experienced various issues in their current or other homes during various time periods over the last five years. Data is provided for in the last year in their current home only%Number of Private Renters
Problems with mould in the last year in my current property42%4,668,934
A problem with the boiler/no hot water/no heating in the last year in my current home31%3,428,504
Problems with pests or animal infestations in the last year in my current home14%1,605,854
Having electrical hazards in the last year in my current home11%1,262,780

About Shelter: Shelter exists to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society. Shelter believes that home is everything. Learn more at www.shelter.org.uk.

About Pablo: Pablo is an independent, brand-led creative advertising agency based in Shoreditch. The ego-free home of the ‘humble radicals’, Pablo is helmed by well-respected industry figureheads with a versatile array of specialisms and is uniquely structured to support continual changes in the increasingly pressured marketing landscape. Using bespoke sector-tailored insight tools – such as ‘The Panel’, a sports insights team led by Pablo’s co-owner and former England rugby star, Ben Kay – Pablo is able to bring clients into the heart of its process, so building richer creative through early strategic collaboration. By combining a brand-led focus with in-house channel planning, Pablo works through-the-line to help clients like adidas, Carlsberg and Nutella enliven big brand ideas across the most effective touch points. In May 2016, Pablo was awarded The Drum Marketing Awards Grand Prix for its work on NHS Blood and Transplant ‘Give Blood’.