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Study finds standards have improved in rented homes in Britain

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Sat 22 Sep 2018

Study finds standards have improved in rented homes in Britain

Standards have improved in rented properties in Britain but safety, particularly relating to gas and fires, still falls short, according to new research.

Over the past four years, during which time there has been a raft of new legislation relating to the private rented sector, there have been significant leaps forward in landlords’ professional standards, but safety is still compromised in too many rentals, says a report from insurer AXA.

It points out that the sector still has catching up to do on important areas like fire and gas safety. Every rental property requires an annual gas safety inspection but just 58% have had this check in the past 12 months.

Four in 10 tenants say they do not have smoke alarms installed, despite landlords being legally required to fit them on each floor of a property. This is still a marked improvement on 2014, prior to the rule being introduced, when six in 10 tenants lacked them.

Two other key requirements are that landlords provide an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to tenants, and in England and Wales the Government’s ‘How to Rent’ Guide, which informs them of their rights and responsibilities.

Yet only a third of tenants say they have seen the EPC, up from 19 in 2014, and just 15% of those eligible have received the Government’s mandatory guide.

AXA notes that landlords compromise their rights with these omissions, as those who have not provided the guide, EPC and gas safety certificate cannot evict a tenant under a Section 21 notice.

While recent legislation has increased pressure on landlords to raise their game, there is still little awareness among tenants of basic rights and entitlements. This means vital consumer pressure to push standards up further is largely absent.

Some 75% of tenants did not know their landlord is legally required to ensure a minimum energy rating for the property, and a similar number were unaware of the requirement for EPCs and gas safety checks. Most, some 89%, said it was the tenant’s responsibility to keep any chimneys swept too which is untrue as this is the landlord’s responsibility.

Last year, AXA found that one in 20 rental properties were still rated F or G for energy performance, categories now outlawed from the rental market. This has now fallen to three per cent of properties in the, equating to 150,000 properties nationwide.

Seven in 10 rental properties are now A to C bands for energy performance, but ‘cold hazard’ is still rated the number one health risk associated with living in private rented accommodation.

Indeed, half of tenants surveyed said they feel their rental property negatively impacts their health and poor energy performance was quoted by 21%. Most tenants in this group also cited damp or out of date heating systems at the same time.

Change is afoot, however, as AXA’s latest figures on energy saving features in the private rental sector show that landlords are upgrading their properties at a rapid rate, with figures jumping on smart meters in particular.

It also found that 78% of properties now have full double glazing, up from 73% last year, 26% have smart meters installed, up from 14% in 2017 and 34% have roof insulation, up from 32%.

‘Landlords are getting more professional, and we are seeing standards rise in British rentals, driven by legislation and desire of landlords themselves. We know that many start out as accidentals, and there is a big learning curve for them at the start, particularly as legislation changes so often,’ said Gareth Howell, managing director of AXA Insurance.

‘We find that both landlords and their tenants lag behind, so public awareness campaigns are vital to correct myths and promote new rules and standards. Gas and fire safety should be the priorities here: our research suggests that millions of properties are not compliant with today’s laws,’ he added.