Written by Anny Cullum, ACORN Researcher and Policy Officer, 3rd February 2022
This report sets out findings from a survey completed by 507 ACORN members collecting their experiences of renting over the last 5 years. It ran from the 5th to the 18th January 2022. The survey asked questions about experiences with disrepair and hazards, evictions, getting deposits back, and behaviour of landlords and letting agents. The survey also asked respondents whether they had reported issues to the relevant enforcement agencies and whether these agencies had helped them with their situation.
Tenants can approach the local authority for help if their landlord or letting agent is harassing them or is not carrying out repairs or addressing hazards, and the local authority can also assist if a tenant is faced with eviction. The police have powers to stop illegal evictions and support tenants who are being harassed. The Property Ombudsman can offer redress to tenants unhappy with the conduct of their letting agency. All deposits must be held in a deposit protection scheme, which can offer arbitration if there's a dispute about how much deposit a tenant should get back when they move out.
The efficacy of regulatory bodies at a glance
- Local council: 22% of respondents who had reported a hazard in their home to the local council said that the council helped them, 23% who went to the council for help with being evicted said they council helped them, 12% of people who reported harassment or threatening behaviour to the council said that the council helped them
- Deposit protection schemes: 64% of respondents who had used the scheme to resolve a dispute said that the scheme had helped them
- Property Ombudsman: 50% of respondents did not know that they could report a letting agency to the Property Ombudsman
- The police: Out of the 249 respondents who said they have experienced harassment or threatening behaviour from a landlord or agent (including multiple unannounced visits) only 13 had reported this to the police. 5 said the police helped, 8 were told by the police that there was nothing they could do to help.
Disrepair & Hazards
91.8% of respondents have lived with a hazard in the home at some point in the last 5 years. Hazards include:
- fire risks - for example, unsafe cladding, faulty electrical equipment or lack of fire alarms
- damp or mould
- excess cold or heat
- asbestos or dangerous gases - for example, carbon monoxide from faulty gas boilers
- problems keeping a property secure - for example, faulty locks or lack of burglar alarms
- too much noise or poor lighting
- risk of infection - for example, from pests, a poor water supply or drains
- risk of accidents - for example, from trips or falls, electrical hazards or parts of the building collapsing
Figure 1: graph showing the %of respondents who had experienced each type of hazard
50.7% of respondents said that they hadn’t raised a hazard or other issue with their landlord or the local authority because they were worried about being evicted as a result.
“We were scared of being evicted so didn't report.”
When responding to the question about whether they had reported intimidation and harassment from their landlord to the police a respondent said. “There is no way the police would help with this and we would get evicted and become homeless if we tried.”
“I would worry about the repercussions of reporting to the local authority such as tenancy being cancelled, hostile response from landlord etc”
18.2% of respondents said they had been threatened with eviction after complaining about a problem in their home.
“When my flat flooded my landlord suggested that I should stop complaining about the long delays in fixing it because the rent was low for the area and she could easily raise it”
“My letting agent has tried to bully me into leaving, telling me the landlord will sell my home from underneath me instead of pay for repairs to stop my bathroom pouring with rainwater, and telling me I should leave.”
11.2% said they had been served notice or illegally evicted after complaining about a problem.
“Environmental health got involved but then we were given a section 21, revenge eviction.”
“reported to environmental health, they came round, sided with me and told them to fix it, but the landlords response was to evict us, and they managed to use a loophole to do it. we went to the council for help but they said they couldn’t help us, we nearly ended up homeless”
Reporting to the Local Authority
25.3% of people who had experienced a hazard reported this to their local authority.
Out of that number, only 22% said the local authority had helped them. Of the other 78%, 45% had been told by their local authority that their issue was not serious enough for them to do anything. Others reported that they didn’t hear back, or chose to move out because the process took so long, or that the council accepted falsehoods from landlords at face value.
“The process was too long. They gave my landlord a month to replace broken radiators, during which time I was without heating and had to move out. I had already been waiting 2 months for repairs once I got the council involved.”
“They sent someone from environmental health to look but the representative did not note any of the issues and said they could see no faults, despite mould on all the walls in all the hallways and entrance and a totally unsecured front door.”
“Very light touch response from the Local Authority. They're only interested in dealing with the extreme cases and not the day to day disrepair that's almost universal in renting”
Security of Tenure
24.3% of respondents had experienced eviction in some form, from being served a legal notice to being illegally evicted. Only 51.4% had been given a legal eviction notice.
Figure 2: Graph showing the breakdown of the forms the evictions took. Respondents were asked to tick multiple boxes if they had experienced more than one form of eviction on different occasions.
Reporting to the Local Authority
Out of the respondents who had experienced eviction in some form, 24% contacted the council about their situation and of that number;
- 23% said the council helped them,
- 49% said they were told by the council that there was nothing they could do to help,
- and the remaining 28% said the council weren’t helpful but didn’t tell them there was nothing they could do.
“whilst living in Derby, was simply told tough luck by the council officer.”
“I and my family went through 2 no fault evictions in private rented in the space of 10 months. It was incredibly stressful and expensive and there was no compensation. These were section 21 evictions and the council had no sympathy, told me to get back in the private rent marketplace, where I was vulnerable to the whole process again.”
“I was told I had to be homeless and on the street before I could be helped.”
“Honest to God. Having been left feeling powerless and thrown in the streets for daring to ask for a legal notice period, the council were beyond unfit for purpose. Thrown around all the departments. None of them said they could so anything despite me spelling out the councils own powers to them. But as we know, they just have no funding to actually do anything ever.”
60.1% of respondents had been in dispute with their landlord over the amount of deposit they should get back.
“Private landlords have without fail tried to keep my deposit, one letting agent stated they would charge me for the bathroom being in an unacceptable standard, the photo evidence provided was a single hair in the toilet bowl.”
34.5% have had deposits that were not put in a protection scheme.
“We had to take our landlord to court because he was just ignoring our requests to get our deposit back. We knew it wasn't in a scheme, and had tried to get this addressed during the tenancy so had emails proving that he knew it should be but was ignoring our requests to do it. We had to pay court fees of over £300 to even get it heard, and although the landlord has to pay these if you win the case that is a lot of money to have to pay especially when the case isn't necessarily quick. The landlord ignored the court summons so it took multiple attempts and us being very determined to get the case to actually happen. Despite all this, when we did get the case heard and the landlord was told to pay our deposit more than a year after we moved out, he received no fine.”
Arbitration through the Deposit Protection Scheme
37% of those who had a dispute tried to resolve this through the deposit protection scheme and 61% of those respondents said the scheme had helped them.
“The DPS acted precisely as the independent decision maker that both we and the landlord needed.”“Always had a good experience from the DPS, they awarded me my full deposit when a landlord tried keeping my full deposit when they had not done an inventory and the house was in a better state than when I moved in.”
“The deposit protection scheme tried to make me prove a negative, that I had not done something which the landlord had accused me of which is very difficult to prove. The burden of proof was on me, not the landlord.”
“Got some of the deposit back but it the amount taken out of the deposit was still massively disproportionate. Among other ridiculous claims we were charged a £50 removal fee for leaving empty clothes hangars in the wardrobe. Claims such as these are used cynically by property management companies to cash in on tenants’ need to have their deposit back as soon as possible, whilst companies and landlords can afford to wait out the long procedures of the deposit scheme. Because of this inequality, the scheme as its stands will never be a fair process for tenants, and is not fit for purpose.”
Landlord & Letting Agent Behaviour
- Unannounced visits:
76% of respondents had experienced unannounced visits by a landlord, their agent or another person working on their behalf.
“I have consistently received unannounced (or significantly less than 24 hrs notice) visits in almost all my tenancies over the past 5 years,”
“My landlord didn't care that it was our home and would show up and let herself in with no warning to use our attic for storage.”
“In previous rented accommodation I was at home in bed with a sickness bug and the letting agent let themselves in with 2 people to view our flat without any prior notice. Just turned up. I complained to the agency.”
- Harassment, Intimidation, Multiple Unannounced Visits
50% of respondents said they had experienced harassment or felt intimidated by their landlord or someone working for them, or had experienced multiple unannounced visits.
“When I was 19 I (female) moved into a shared house, I was the first to move in and lived there alone for a week. The landlords "agent" let himself into the house the first morning I was there and came into my room while I was in bed. He also once came round at 8pm on a Saturday night to shout at us about an unpaid bill.In most rental properties I've lived in, landlords have turned up without notice on at least one occasion.”
“Landlord turned up announced early in the morning. Threw rubbish in our garden. Shouted at us for his failure to find new tenants when no one had even come to a single house viewing. On a separate occasion I was receiving constant phone calls from a landlord after I reported them to the DPS.”
“My current landlord repeatedly turns up unannounced despite myself and my housemates reminding him if the 24 hour rule stated in our contract and the law and telling him that as a house full of young women we feel unsafe with random men turning up and expecting to be invited in/not asked to leave.”
- Breakdown of other issues experienced with letting agents
89.4% of respondents had experienced a problem with a letting agent.
We asked respondents if they had experienced any of the following issues with letting agencies:
- Not resolving repair issues
- Unfair charges or fees
- Dispute over deposits at the end of the week
- Not putting your deposit in a scheme
- Making promises about property improvements before you move in that aren't fulfilled
- Not giving you your landlords contact details
Figure 3: breakdown of problems respondents had had when dealing with letting agencies
Reporting to the Local Authority
Only 9.5% of people who experienced harassment, intimidation or multiple unannounced visits reported this to their local authority.
Of those only 12.5% (3 respondents) said the council had helped them.
70.5% were told by the council that there was nothing they could do to help.
“agents were harassing me - unannounced inspections/repairs, constant letters & calls, trying to force me out so landlord could up the rent. Eventually served a (seemingly) legal section 21. Contacted the local authority, they said they couldn't do anything but they got me on the housing list and in temporary housing before the end of notice … still harassed with unannounced viewings & 'repairs' until I left.”
“Landlord frequently sent workmen without notice or performed inspections without informing the tenants. On more than one occasion with happened while I was at home asleep between night shifts. Reported to council who advised to keep a record and complain to the landlord but nothing further.”
“Local authority reported them to landlord immediately. The letting agent had been withholding the issue from them.”
Reporting to the Police
Only 5% of people who had experienced harassment, felt intimidated or had multiple unannounced visits contacted the police. Of those most were told that there was nothing the police could do.
"It's civil". No it falls under this criminal law right here. "No its not harassment if you respond". I complain at such nonsense of a response. Get told "why don't you just leave your home if he wants you out? This could get messy for you". All I wanted was more than 3 weeks notice at Christmas time.”
“Reported harassment & threat of revenge eviction to the police and council. Both of whom claimed it was civil / criminal.. neither did anything. My solicitor contacted them both spelling out their powers & they still did nothing.”
Reporting to the Property Ombudsman
Of all the respondents who had experienced issues with letting agents, only 3.3% reported their agent to the property ombudsman. 50% of people who had experienced a problem didn’t know that they could report to the Ombudsman.
Of those who had reported to the Ombudsman, 50% said that they investigated the issue.
“They were helpful but said the investigation would take a year or so - not good when you need the money.”
“my complaint to the ombudsman … did result in a positive action - though this took months of work”
“The property ombudsman didn’t do anything as I was still going through complaints procedure with my letting agents. During the whole process I was paying rent on a house I was unable to inhabit”
“Reported repairs in my entire building and TPOS said that they have no power to order repairs, this was after already going through the official complaints/repair procedure with the letting agency”
Private renting in the UK is broken. Renters desperately need legislative change and at the top of the list is the scrapping of Section 21 no fault evictions. The statistics in this report show that a staggering number of renters are afraid to report issues in their home for fear of losing their home.
Alongside scrapping Section 21, the government must also legislate to stop landlords and agencies from imposing rent hikes other wise they could raise the rent to an unaffordable amount after a complaint and force tenants out this way. It would be Section 21 by the back door.
Another striking find from this survey is that the agencies that are supposed to offer redress for tenants simply aren’t providing this to a high standard, perhaps with the exception of the deposit protection scheme. Local councils need to be properly funded to investigate issues and enforce standards in the sector. Spending on housing standards by local authorities in England nearly halved between 2009 and 2019 (Emma Rose, Unchecked 2020) but the number of households in the private rented sector in the UK increased from 2.8 million in 2007 to 4.5 million in 2017. (“UK private rented sector: 2018” 2019)