Posted on 15 January 2021
Around 20 per cent of all households are accommodated in the private rented sector (PRS), and an estimated 10 per cent of adults are now or have been private landlords in the past. Private renting is a substantial part of almost everyone’s ‘housing life’. Every part of the economy has its dark underbelly, and the private rented sector is no different. Most people will have a story to tell about a ‘dodgy landlord’, and the reputation of the sector can be poor. However, low expectations of this part of the housing market have tended to obscure the fact that there are serious levels of criminality linked to letting residential property.
'Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector', which has been judged to be the most influential housing report of 2020, is the first research project to focus specifically on the incidence and experience of landlord criminality. Inside Housing's Thinkhouse Review said, 'This was truly a report that went to the root of some of the inequalities that dominated 2020 and well deserves its place at the top of the Thinkhouse editorial panel’s reports of the past year.' Safer Renting at Cambridge House, a charity delivering tenancy relations services in London, and the Centre for Housing Policy conducted research on the charity’s own caseload plus interviews with the victims of landlord crime. These crimes included fraudulent letting via complex ‘rent-to-rent’ scams, letting property in structures not designed for residential habitation, intimidation, theft and sometimes violent illegal eviction. Some tenant accounts indicated clear links between criminal letting and serious crimes, including modern slavery practices.
Some tenants had approached the council as homeless – including tenants with children – and had been placed with criminal landlords who, in one instance, accommodated a family in a garage, and in another case later illegally evicted the family with such violence that the police were called to the scene.
Landlord crime has flourished in circumstances where tenants have become extremely marginalised and unable to access the legitimate rental market. These circumstances include austerity measures leading to the withdrawal of funding from local authority enforcement officers, and a lack of police interest in housing-related offenses. The complexities of Universal Credit have reduced opportunities to rent in the legitimate market; limited support is available to individuals with mental health problems, and who are vulnerable to exploitation; and tenants do not trust statutory agencies to support them in taking action against the incidence of illegal eviction. This is particularly the case where one common response is for the local authority simply to rehouse the victim with the same landlord.
This report demonstrates that the shadow PRS exists as a distinctive part of the housing market, with distinctive criminal behaviours and requiring a targeted policy response.
To download and read the full report click here.