- Private Renting in England
- Private rented homes are often poor quality, difficult to heat and keep cool, and damaging to tenants’ health
- Private renters feel their homes are expensive and bad value for money
- Private renters endure high levels of housing insecurity, with evictions a common experience
- The existence of section 21 contributes to a power imbalance between tenants and landlords
- Private renting is disruptive to family life
- Evictions and runaway rents are undermining the fabric of our communities
- Several types of tenant experience discrimination in the private rented sector
- The process of renting a property is challenging, especially for those on low incomes
This report presents the results obtained from a survey conducted among 312 tenants, who shared their first-hand experiences of renting in the private rented sector (PRS) in England. The survey was administered from the 24th of May to the 27th of June 2023. Participants were asked a range of questions pertaining to various aspects of their rental experiences, such as the overall quality of private rented housing, its impact on tenants' health and well-being, instances of evictions, occurrences of discrimination, the effects of housing instability on family and community life, as well as considerations of affordability and accessibility.
Our research focuses on the 4.6 million private rented households in England. By conducting this research, we aim to shed light on the specific challenges and concerns faced by private tenants in England and provide insights for policymakers, media outlets, and the general public. This research is particularly timely given the ongoing reform efforts in the housing sector. The introduction of the Renters Reform Bill by the Conservative government demonstrates the importance and urgency of addressing the needs of private tenants. The commitment made by Labour to implement a Renters' Charter within the first 100 days of a Labour government highlights the cross-party recognition of the significance of private renting as a national issue.
Private Renting in England
There are currently an estimated 4.6 million private renting households in England, up from around 2 million in 2002. This represents a significant shift in the scale and nature of the sector in the last two decades. Where previously the sector largely consisted of students and young adults, it is now common to find families with children, professionals and older people renting privately.
According to the ONS, English private renters on a median household income spend 26% of their income on average on a median-priced rented home. In high-demand areas this percentage gets higher: 40% in London, 31% in both the South East and Yorkshire and the Humber. Housing is also more expensive for those on low incomes: In every region except the West Midlands, lower-quartile rental prices exceed 30% of the lower-quartile median income.
Private rented homes are often poor quality, difficult to heat and keep cool, and damaging to tenants’ health
Less than a quarter (23.4%) of respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement "My private rented home is good quality". More than half (53.3%) disagree or strongly disagree.
“There’s damp, loose wires, detritus dumped from other properties, and black mould present.”
“Every private rented home I've lived in as an adult has had mould, damp and often serious disrepair.”
“My home is extremely energy inefficient, damp, and full of holes where mice get in in the winter. I can't store food properly without it going mouldy due to the damp, and ventilating the flat is difficult.”
“I have lived in multiple rented houses in the last five years and have never lived in a property with no mould or roof leaks, as well as other issues.”
Almost two-thirds (65.5%) agree or strongly agree with the statement “I am concerned about the effect my home is having on my physical and/or mental health”. Only 18.2% disagree or strongly disagree. A striking theme is the effect of tenant’s deteriorating physical and mental health due to their housing on their ability to work.
“The price, and repeated issues with disrepair, mould and infestations has caused me a large amount of stress, meaning for a long time I was signed off work for depression and claiming ESA. The damp and mould has also caused me respiratory issues.”
“Having to deal with damp, repair issues, heating loss and a mice infestation whilst working full time has been stressful and often made me feel anxious and depressed. My partner has had to take time off sick for depression”
“Problems with damp and mould that the landlord blames me for, problems with old out-of-date fittings that are falling apart. I am on immunosuppressant medications (azathioprine and infliximab), have an autoimmune disease, my wife has her own health issues too. We are both concerned about mould being untreated.”
“boiler was leaking gas 2 certificates to prove this my home is also riddled with damp and i have no working light on my staircase. radiators full of mold. since i have moved in i have got shingles, eye floaters, respiratory issues bad headaches and brainfog this has made me suicidal.”
Almost two-thirds (65.2%) disagree or strongly disagree with the statement "I can keep my home at a comfortable temperature throughout the year". Only 17.9% agree or strongly agree. Clearly, this is problematic at the best of times, but in the context of rising heating bills, people are being forced to place even more strain on their finances, or face living in freezing temperatures during winter. Poor insulation and lack of maintenance also means that tenants’ houses are too cold in winter, and too hot in summer.
“My window doesn't seal properly so is problematic in winter. Window also doesn't open fully so isn't cool enough in summer. If it wasn't 700 for the room perhaps it would be reasonable, but given the price it absolutely isn't. Space, natural lighting and insulation in the winter all contribute. also the price of the house contributes to how much we can afford to put the heating on.”
“It's very expensive to heat, but also gets very hot in summer”
“The house is hard to heat due to lack of insulation and I do not have the money it would take to keep it warm.”
“Heating too expensive during the winter. Lack of blinds on windows fail to keep away excessive sunlight that warms up the flat too much.”
Private renters feel their homes are expensive and bad value for money
73.7% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree with the statement "My private rented home is good value for money". 86.2% are paying >30% of their monthly income on rent; 63.3% >40%; 41.6% >50%; 26.3% >60%. 56.8% have had a rent rise imposed in the last 12 months. Of those, 22.3% had to relocate.
“My rent used to be £700 for a flat in the centre of town now it's £1000 and I live 5 miles out of town in an awful location. Everytime we move (every 6 months) we end up further away and at least £50/£100 more a month”
“My rent has increased by a quarter in two years”
“Working in the NHS, received a small pay rise of 5% while rent jumped by 20%. Little consideration given to people whether they can afford it or not.”
Private renters endure high levels of housing insecurity, with evictions a common experience
More than a third (35.8%) of respondents have been evicted from their home in the PRS at some point. The majority of these people (71.2%) had been evicted via section 21. Of those evicted, 38.8% report having been evicted within the first year of their tenancy; 68% within the first two years.
“Our eviction from our home was one of the most traumatic and stressful experiences I’ve ever had.”
“I was evicted apparently due to the landlord's husband needing to move in following a separation - this never happened and how a young family are living there and say they too have been asked to leave.”
The existence of section 21 contributes to a power imbalance between tenants and landlords
9.9% of respondents reported having experienced an eviction following a complaint about maintenance, and almost two-thirds (64.1%) said they had not reported problems with their home for fear of eviction.
“I asked my landlady to fix the front door as it was insecure. She put a note through the door telling us to move out. I knew it was illegal but she was a really nasty lady so for our mental health we moved into yet another inadequate dwelling”
“Complained about state of house and lack of repairs. Was evicted illegally. Didn't know rights e.g. s21 at the time. Had to leave within a week. Was very stressful”
“I complained about rat or mice droppings so they evicted me. It was an HMO with landlord living on the property.”
“Landlord did not like me raising concerns on rent rises when there were so many repairs issues, hence he served me Section 21. This is only happening with me and not any other tenants in the dwelling unit since i raised my voice. “
Private renting is disruptive to family life
A striking theme of our research is the impact of the instability and unaffordability of the PRS on family life. 28.9% of evicted respondents who are parents, carers and guardians (PCGs) and 40.3% of respondents who are PCGs moving due to rising rents have had to change their child/ren’s school following an eviction.
“we had to move during my son's GCSEs which the landlady knew about.”
“Our child was due to start school for the first time and we were asked to be moved out the week she was due to start. As a result we have had to DEFER her schooling for an entire year. We are scared this is about to happen again.”
“We are having to move out of the area big issue my son is very hard to reschool as his disabilities make finding a special needs school hard I may have to home school as most are full, my youngest son has extreme anxiety taken a year to speak in school so I'm very worried the consequences on him too”
“I’m on notice from my landlord that if I don’t agree to increase in rent [from £900 to £1200] I will get evicted. I can’t afford to pay £1200, I am afraid I will have to relocate, leave my community and change my children schools“
Research suggests that frequent school moves have lifelong consequences for the child, as they negatively impact the “social and neighbourhood relationships” that support schooling, and are associated with lower educational attainment and an increased chance of developing “psychotic-like symptoms”.
People told us about how the lack of affordable housing had driven them to move away from their family:
“Have moved 10 times in the last 8 years ... I’m 30 and I work full time and the only places I can afford are mouldy, damp, badly insulated, noisy, or really far from work/my friends and family.”
“I am a carer for my disabled mother and have to commute over 30 mins to get to her as we cannot afford properties closer to the city.”
“Slowly getting priced out…slowly moving further away from friends and family, who are also moving away because of costs. Moving every year because of rent rises.“
“I was priced out of brighton the city where i grew up”
But these are not the only challenges to family life created by the PRS. Research from Shelter suggests that poor housing conditions have significant negative impacts on childrens’ health, safety, educational outcomes and economic wellbeing, and “increase the risk of severe ill-health or disability by up to 25 per cent during childhood and early adulthood”.
Renters told us about how poor housing quality negatively affects their family’s health:
“It has been riddled with issues of damp, electrical faults and has a dreadful energy rating. My asthmatic 4 year old has been hospitalised because of the damp.”
People also talked about how housing instability and poor conditions in the rental market get in the way of them enjoying a normal family life:
“Constant worry about a rent rise, insecurity about the home I’m bringing my family up in, reluctance to ask for things to be fixed for fear of rent rises.”
“My rented home is falling to bits. It’s working on an old electrical fuse system, the decor is poor, there’s a lot of outstanding jobs as long as my arm but I dare not ask the landlord to do any repairs as he may decide to move back in himself leaving me and my family homeless. Rents in my area are up by nearly 65%, pricing me out of another rented property - yet my two children go to school in the area so I feel very trapped right now. The biggest problem is the price of rented accommodation.“
“we were evicted but the new place although lovingly redecorated isn’t ideal for a family with a child either. With direct access to the road I feel I have to keep my child indoors when she should be exploring.“
11.4% of respondents believe they have been refused by a landlord due to being a parent, guardian or carer of a child under 18.
“No one wanted to let to a single mom with disabled kids on UC. Found current house as friend moved out and recommended me”
“Called about a property with 4 bedrooms, we have 3 children and were told we have “too many children””
“My son and daughter in law who have a baby and a dog feel discriminated against for trying to have a normal family life. So many places turn them down because of the dog AND the baby.”
Pets are an important part of many families, but renting in the private sector makes it a challenging, often impossible experience. 40.4% of respondents have been refused by a landlord due to their ownership of pets.
“I was ringing agent after agent basically begging them to allow a small dog. Pets are family members and its disgusting that it's even legal to deny them.”
“Renting with pets is a minefield in the private sector and it shouldn't be. I had paid a holding deposit for a flat and the landlords turned around and told me they wouldn't be renting to me because they had "seen on a forum" that people with pets are a bad idea to rent to.”
“We were told we couldn't have even a fish tank in our apartment.”
“When we were looking for a rental it was difficult even to find places that would consider us - whole letting agencies refused to let to us in the basis that we had pets (2 cats).”
17.1% have had to give up a pet in order to secure housing.
"When my husband left and me and my daughter had to move. Nowhere would accept pets so we had to give up our dog. It was heartbreaking for my daughter. I had to prioritise my daughter over the dog. I really shouldn't have had to. Our dog was well behaved.
“Had to give up my pets when I fled my previous home due to domestic abuse and could not find anywhere I could afford that would accept them”
“I had to eventually give away my cat to someone else as I couldn't find anywhere that would take the both of us. I was so sad because my cat was like an emotional support animal for me”
Evictions and runaway rents are undermining the fabric of our communities
55% of respondents report having had to move away from their community due to rising rents.
“It's demeaning when you've been a good tenant, always paid your rent and bills on time, kept the place in a good condition - usually much cleaner than it was when you moved in - made friends with the neighbours. Then the rent goes up "in line with the market" and you have to leave.“
“We have to live far away from our friends and community due to not being able to afford housing closer to the city centre. We are renewing our tenancy soon and I'm really scared the rent is going to rise.”
“Have had to move away from my community and been on the brink of houselessness due to the massive rent rise in the past three years”
“my 12 month contract is due for renewal in September and I know all local rentals are now out of my price range (unless I chose to go back to sharing at age 40). I've lived, worked and volunteered in this community for 15years. It would devastating for my already fragile mental health if I had to move away.“
Only 2.4% had any confidence that, if evicted, they could find and afford a similar rented home in their current area within 2 months (the current eviction notice period).
“I am CURRENTLY in the middle of a Section 21, I am STILL at my rented home with my daughter and her young daughter. But we have no way of being able to ever private rent again because we have NO GUARANTOR. No savings either and the local Housing officer informed us today that we could spend more than two years in different temporary accommodation before we 'might' get a housing association home.”
“brutal. having to find somewhere else to live at short notice is horrid, forcing you to take up in places where there are dodgy landlords and not as affordable as could be.”
“The eviction forced me to take up an apartment nearly £100 pcm more expensive.”
Several types of tenant experience discrimination in the private rented sector
36.2% of respondents believe they have been refused by a landlord due to claiming benefits.
“When replying to requests for viewings, most letting agents in my area by default ask whether I'm in a student or in work. When I tell them I'm in receipt of disability benefits, they usually ghost me. Even if I press for a response, they'll either carry on ignoring me or reply a day or two later to tell me the property's since been let (although sometimes the properties will continue to be advertised)”
“If you're on benefits, you're nothing in these people's eyes.”
9.6% believe they have been refused by a landlord due to their immigration status or race/ethnicity, 11.4% of respondents believe they have been refused by a landlord due to being a parent, guardian or carer of a child under 18, and 55.5% believe they have been refused by a landlord due to not being a "professional".
“When I had 2 part time jobs I wasn't considered a professional so no one would accept me. Despite holding them for a long time and having a stable income, albeit a low one.”
“I understand that letting agents and landlords will have some concerns about affordability when letting to people on low incomes, but I can afford the tenancies I'm asking to view. In fact, I'm going for the cheapest places I can find, but I live in a major city and private sector rents here are typically way beyond what agents consider to be 'affordable'.”
The process of renting a property is challenging, especially for those on low incomes
More than a third (33.9%) of those surveyed have been unable to move into a new property because of delays in receiving the deposit from their previous tenancy.
81.7% have had to pay a new deposit before getting their old deposit back.
72% have had to borrow money to pay for a deposit.
Rent in advance
13.9% were asked for 3 or more months rent prior to moving into their current property.
47.9% report that rent-in-advance demands have prevented them from moving into a property that was otherwise affordable.
93.5% of respondents report encountering a ‘bidding war’ (in which the property goes to the person willing to pay the most rent) while searching for a home.
“Living in London, the bidding process for rentals is a horrible experience. To find a house we have been to 29 viewings, made 10 offers and only then one was accepted.”
“Manchester becoming like London. Not enough properties, people bidding on rent.“
Of those, 85.5% say a bidding war has prevented them from renting a property that was otherwise affordable.
The scrapping of section 21 and the closure of loopholes that would allow no-fault evictions by the back door are crucial to allow stability for individual tenants, families, and the communities in which they live, and for the wellbeing of tenants who are too afraid to complain about repairs due to the risk of eviction.
Landlords should have to pass a high bar of evidence to prove they genuinely intend to move themselves/a family member in or sell the property in order to evict tenants, with significant penalties for abusing possession grounds including fines and bans for repeat offenders, and a ‘no re-let’ period of 12 months after using the selling/moving in grounds to evict a tenant.
In the absence of Section 21, unaffordable rent rises could be used as a way for landlords to no-fault evict tenants by the back door. To avoid this, in-tenancy rent increases should be limited to the lower of local median wage growth or inflation (CPI).
Eviction notice and protected periods
The notice given to tenants who are being evicted on landlord circumstance grounds should be extended from 2 months (as is proposed in the Renters Reform Bill) to 4 months. As we’ve heard from tenants in this research, 2 months is simply not long enough for the vast majority of tenants - especially those with children - to find a suitable property that meets their needs.
The protected period (the period at the start of a tenancy in which tenants are immune from eviction) proposed in the Renters Reform Bill should be extended from 6 months to 2 years. Responsible landlords who plan their business properly should not need to evict a tenant within 2 years of them moving in, and having to leave a property 6 months after moving in is an unacceptable level of insecurity for tenants. Of those surveyed who have experienced eviction, 38.8% report having been evicted within the first year of their tenancy; 68% within the first two years.
Decent Homes Standard for the private sector
The private rented sector requires a Decent Homes Standard that is robust and properly enforced. There are several ways to organise proper enforcement, but none of them can be done on the cheap - they all require granting powers and resources to local authorities, and giving them a duty to enforce it. This will cost money, but will save the Treasury money and reduce social harm via improved health, education, safety and economic outcomes for private tenants (especially children).
Energy efficiency and insulation
Private rented homes are frequently difficult to heat in winter, and keep cool in summer. This costs tenants money in energy bills, negatively impacts tenants’ health and quality of life, and costs us all through environmental damage. At a minimum, landlords should be required to properly insulate their properties and bring them up to an EPC rating of ‘C’ or above.
There is a major affordability crisis in the private rented sector. The majority of those surveyed reported that they were paying more than the affordability threshold of 30% of their rent on income, and felt their homes were bad value for money. Respondents also told us that spiralling rents are driving them away from their families and communities, tearing apart the fabric that holds our society together.
To tackle the affordability crisis, we need a Local Housing Allowance that increases in line with market rents, rent controls that halt runaway rent costs and allow wages to catch up, and a mass council house building programme to provide affordable housing for all those that need it.
Rent controls should apply between tenancies as well as within tenancies to avoid creating an incentive for landlords to evict existing tenants to replace them with higher-paying tenants, or to raise rents as much as possible between tenancies.
Discrimination is a depressingly common experience in the private rented sector. Several kinds of people - benefits claimants, immigrants, ethnic minorities and non-”professionals” - told us they believe they have been denied properties due to discrimination. There are other, less direct forms of discrimination too: bidding wars and excessive demands for rent in advance are forms of income discrimination, creating barriers to renting for those on low incomes.
There should be a blanket ban on discrimination against renters in receipt of benefits and those with children, allowing them to make a legal challenge even if they don’t fall under a protected group under the Equality Act 2010. There should also be reforms to prevent bidding wars pricing people out of properties, and caps on the amount of rent up front that can be demanded by landlords.
Crucially, there needs to be a drastic increase in the supply of social housing, which would help tenants from marginalised groups secure properties without having to be at the mercy of potentially discriminatory private landlords..
The deposit system also requires reform, preferably in the form of a ‘deposit passport’ system. In such a system tenants would pay into a deposit scheme when they begin private renting that is independent of their specific tenancy. That deposit would follow them from property to property, only needing to be topped up when landlords make deductions, eliminating the problems caused by delayed deposit reimbursement.
As is evident in this research, tenants often need to pay the deposit for their next property before they’ve received their deposit back from their previous landlord, which drives tenants into debt and can cause them to be unable to move into their new property.
Finally, private tenants should have the right to own pets. Pets are a core part of many families, and provide companionship to a wide range of people. Those renting privately deserve the joy and wellbeing that pets bring as much as anybody else, and nobody should have to abandon a beloved family member to avoid homelessness.