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Annual property MOT needed for rented homes

Written by: Owain Thomas
An annual property MOT is one of a series of strategies proposed to solve significant failings in the private rental sector.

A scathing report from the University of York highlights that in its current form the private rental market is not providing a suitable alternative to homeownership – which is increasingly unachievable.

It slammed the government for an “absence of an overarching vision” which has resulted in “reams of policies and regulations to address problems in the sector which are not joined up or thought through”.

The authors published a previous report 10 years ago and noted that a slum tenure culture has since become apparent at the bottom end of the market due to welfare changes with landlords failing to maintain properties.

Current regulation of the sector is “confused and contradictory” and “failing at multiple levels”, they added, with both tenants and landlords unsure of their rights and responsibilities.

Poor property management

The property MOT would operate in a similar way to cars, in which all properties let for residential purposes would be required to undergo an annual standardised inspection.

This would bring together current requirements such as electrical and gas safety certificates and energy efficiency reports, but also include a new assessment according to a basic minimum standard.

It would be conducted by independent inspectors and would be a tax-deductible business cost for landlords.

University of York Centre for housing policy senior research fellow and co-author of the report Dr Julie Rugg, said: “Since our first review was published, declining homeownership and a shortage of social rented homes have led to a surge in the number of people privately renting – particularly families with young children.

“We need to see a fundamental rethink of the role renting plays in our housing market and a comprehensive strategy to ensure it meets the needs of all those who live there.

“Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards.

“A property MOT would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards won’t lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution.”

Chief executive of the Nationwide Foundation which funded the review, said politicians have ignored private renters resulting in a market that too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes.

“It’s time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting,” she said.

Onus on councils

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) welcomed the report and noted that while government data showed 84% of private tenants were satisfied with their accommodation there was still room to improve.

However, it called on local councils to act to enforce the laws currently available, but agreed that current legislation was too complex.

“Tenants, landlords and local authorities all need to clearly understand their roles, responsibilities and the powers available to tackle poor housing. For many this has become difficult to achieve,” said RLA policy director David Smith.

“A root and branch review of all regulations affecting the sector needs to be carried out to understand if they are achieving what was originally intended. There is no point passing new laws and regulations if the existing ones are not being enforced properly.”

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