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Setting a bad example

Of course there are examples of poor quality rentals in both the social housing and private rented sectors. But tenants have protections and one example does not prove a case, says Sharon Betton.

In March, television reporter Daniel Hewitt has a piece on the terrible conditions in which some social housing tenants have been living. Hewitt was apparently then inundated with calls from people living in all sectors in equally bad conditions. 

Following this, Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, launched an investigation into ‘disgusting’ social housing conditions.  He said he would use new powers to look ‘In depth at the response of social landlords to damp and mould issues’.  It is good to see that the local authorities and housing associations will be put under some scrutiny, though I cannot see any talk of penalties for social landlords who have so patently failed their tenants. The Ombudsman hopes to publish his findings by autumn.

Hewitt’s more recent follow-up report was equally shocking. He chose to interview private tenants.  One in particular was especially disturbing.  Julie, a lady of 30, had lived in a private rented property for seven years.  The property looked disgusting, mould covering ceilings and walls.  She had, for some time, tried to clean it, but she was now unable to do so – she has cancer and is terminally ill. 

I have often spoken to tenants  who complained about the state of their properties. Some say they are frightened to take formal steps to force repairs because they fear eviction. Although there is legislation to protect tenants from revenge eviction, few seem to be aware of this. And often, when I have spoken to the landlord I have been told that no reports had been made tenants, and/or they have denied  access to inspect for repairs, and/or have been obstructive to either the landlord or his designated workmen when they have tried to effect remedial work.

This was not the case with Julie. She was not frightened of reporting repairs, how much more could  she fear than death?

Landlords who choose to think mould and damp problems are solely down to condensation, and by extension, that the problem is down to the tenants, are not being realistic.

Telling tenants to keep windows open, when their budget means they have to choose between keeping warm and letting fresh air into the house, is only likely to go one way.

Mould and damp is a terrible health hazard that need to be dealt with. It causes asthma in children. It is not the only cause; children who live in clean, mould-free homes can also develop it. But it is more prevalent where there are mould spores. And if  there are children around, using anti-mould sprays can also irritate delicate chests.

There are answers, not always cheap. Extractor fans in the kitchen and bathroom, central heating, de-humidifiers in sensitive areas, double glazing, ventilations grills are all things to consider.

Though there are some tenants who do not look after their properties as they should, there are some who will take on board any helpful advice, wanting  to stay in a property in which they are settled.  Good landlords will not make problems with mould a reason for good tenants to flee.

Citizen Advice took the opportunity on Hewitt’s programme to say that they had 49 per cent more complaints in the last year about the unacceptable level of conditions, and to ask the Ombudsman should not limit his investigation to social landlords, but look at accommodation provided by the private sector too.

Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, has said he was ‘disgusted’ by the images from the social housing. But I hope his comment that ‘this is not emblematic of the wider sector’ will also be applied to the private sector.