Comment: Should anyone have to pay for unfit homes?
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When rogue landlords in London pocket £850million of tax payers’ money, without any obligation to make their homes fit to live in something must be done.
What should you expect if you let out a home that contains a serious hazard or is in a poor state of repair?
A demand from the local council, perhaps, insisting you bring the property up to scratch? Or maybe a fine for endangering the mental or physical health – or in the most extreme cases, the life – of your tenants?
Or, should you expect a taxpayer subsidy for your (lack of) trouble?
According to new research commissioned by the Labour party, rogue landlords letting out sub-standard properties in London alone pocket £850million of taxpayer money each year. Nationally the figure is £2.3billion – that’s one pound in every 10 that is spent on housing benefit being used to fund unhealthy or dangerous private housing.
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With rents in Camden some of the highest in the country, I dread to think how much of this money is going to these private landlords in the borough.
What rankles even more is the thought of how many of these sub-standard homes are ex-local authority properties, which have passed into private ownership and now command twice or three times above social rent.
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Of course most landlords in the borough and across the country are careful to maintain their properties to a high standard and charge a reasonable market rent for them but, as a private tenant, I can attest to the fact that there are plenty who don’t.
With the coalition government’s response to rising housing benefit costs being to introduce benefit caps combined with spiralling rents in Camden we are now punishing tenants for being unable to keep pace with rising living costs, while rewarding those who do nothing to ensure the rental properties they profit from are fit to live in.
In contrast to a decade ago, the end of a private rented tenancy is now the leading cause of homelessness in London, while communities and support networks are being fragmented as council tenants and housing benefit claimants are moved out of the borough, and often out of London altogether to cheaper cities like Birmingham. Meanwhile, the minority of rogue landlords charge what they can get for hazardous properties with no consequence to themselves.
While I may prefer to see my taxes spent on building an abundance of affordable, good quality, desirable council housing, in the immediate term I would settle for a requirement that all rental properties – whether paid for via housing benefit or tenant income – be safe to live in. The provision of adequate housing is, after all, a UN human rights commitment.