Poor quality housing, unclear letting agent fees and little information about landlords are some of the problems facing people who live in privately rented homes, research by Consumer Focus Wales shows.
A significant number of tenants who took part in the research on the Private Rented Sector (PRS) Their House, Your Home, complained about the standard of properties that they were living in, describing a lack of cleanliness, poor quality fixtures and fittings, damp and mould. Tenants also complained that additional letting agency fees covering a range of services were too high, not clear and they struggled to pay for these.
Consumer Focus Wales is asking the Welsh Government to make it a requirement for letting agents to make all fees transparent as part of their proposals to licence the sector in the Housing Reform Bill.
Consumer Focus Wales is backing proposals in the Bill to introduce a registration and licensing scheme for landlords and letting agents. Tenants supported these proposals and felt that landlords who were already accredited under a voluntary scheme would be the ones who took pride in their role as a landlord and were seen as more trustworthy.
The scheme also has the potential to put more power in the hands of consumers in making more informed decisions about who they rent a property from. The Welsh Government is proposing to make registration information available on a public database, so tenants will be able to check if their landlord is registered.
Half of landlords told Consumer Focus Wales they did not support the proposal, while other landlords recognised how a model contract would provide greater consumer confidence.
Rhian Evans, Policy Manager at Consumer Focus Wales, said:
‘Our findings show that tenants have little information about a prospective landlord before they move into a property and have no way of checking their credentials. Tenants felt that initial set up costs before starting a tenancy are very high, and some tenants have found that meeting this cost is a struggle, especially for those on low incomes or students.
‘We found that these fees were often not easy to find out about through letting agent websites and certainly feel there is a need for more transparency to allow tenants the opportunity to shop around. Tenants also had little awareness of tenancy deposit schemes or if their deposit was being held in one of these by their landlord or letting agent.
‘The Welsh Government is proposing to introduce a model contract through a tenancy reform Bill and we support this as it puts more power in the hands of tenants by making them better informed about their rights and responsibilities and will give them greater confidence. However, we think it is important that any new contract is clear about where clauses have been added or removed and how this will be identified by tenants. We recommend a summary page of key aspects of the contract at the front. We also think that any new agreement should be tested by landlords and tenants before being launched.’
PRS in Wales is the largest growing housing option for people in Wales , as buying a home becomes less affordable and there are shortages in social housing, the sector it set to continue to rise. Younger people are particularly likely to be living in the sector and the number of young people with their own tenancies in the PRS is set to increase by 54 per cent. Despite this, the PRS contains some of the worst maintained housing stock in Wales, including some of the most energy inefficient properties .
The consumer watchdog is also backing Welsh Government proposals to introduce a new model contract to give tenants greater support as part of the Tenure Reform Bill and supports the introduction of minimum standards to improve the quality of the housing stock in Wales. This includes giving tenants clear ways to communicate with their landlord, repairs being done in a reasonable time and improved safety measures such as fire doors being fitted. However further work needs to be done to consider how these standards will be monitored and enforced to improve conditions for tenants.