What Do Renters Think About Their Homes?

A shock report from MPs claims one in eight tenants lives in squalid private rented homes that are a danger to their health.

But other reports suggest that 85 per cent of tenants are happy with their living standards in their homes.

So, who is right?

On the one side, tenant lobby groups and housing charities lambast landlords for providing substandard accommodation.

However, the well-regarded government English Housing Survey says most tenants like their homes and have no complaints.

Surprisingly both sides are right - they are just manipulating data to prove their points.

Most tenants love their rented homes

First, take a look at the English Housing Survey.

The latest survey edition covers 2020-21 and highlights that the private rented sector has the highest proportion of non-decent homes - 21 per cent or one in five properties. In addition, one in eight homes owned by social landlords fail the standard.

Next, a Social Market Foundation (SMF) survey Where next for the private rented sector? came to a similar conclusion as the English Housing Survey.

Eight out of ten (81 per cent) agreed they are happy with their homes, while 85 per cent had no complaints about their landlords.

So, where did MPs on the cross-party Public Accounts Committee get their data?

Rented homes make tenants ill

The committee’s report leads with the statistic that 13 per cent of rented homes pose severe health and safety risks to tenants. The figure dovetails with the English Housing Survey putting the number at 21 per cent.

The report condemns the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) for ‘starving councils of cash’ to enforce the rules of letting a privately rented home.

MPs also point out that the National Health Service spends £340 million a year to treat patients with conditions triggered or made worse by the state of their homes.

Committee chair Dame Meg Hillier said: “Unsafe conditions, overcrowding, harassment, discrimination, and dodgy evictions are still a huge issue in the private rented sector.

“And yet the sector is a growing provider of homes and rents keep rising, meaning that safe, suitable housing is too often out of reach for renters. Renters with a problem are faced with a complex and costly redress system that is not fit for purpose, and many tenants give up at the first hurdle.

“We need to see a change in balance. We expect DLUHC to produce the promised White Paper in a timely and effective fashion and start to turn around its record on addressing the desperate housing crisis in this country.”

Two sides of the same coin

The committee cites the Regulation of Private Renting report from the Audit Office.

Like a dog chasing its tail, that report gives the English Housing Survey 2008 -2020 as a data source.

So the two interpretations of the same data are:

  • 81 per cent of tenants are happy with their homes
  • 21 per cent of tenants live in substandard dwellings, of which 13 per cent put their health at risk

As the stats come from the same source, both are different sides of the same coin. Politicians and other commentators can quote an excellent or lousy statistic from the same data according to how they want to tell their buy-to-let story.

Getting the timing right

Another vital factor in statistics is timing.

The Audit Office took figures from the English Housing Survey to the then-latest publication date for 2019-2020.

The Public Accounts Committee had the later 2020-21 data available but followed the Audit Office report. A caveat on the last report explained the coronavirus pandemic limited the statistics to trends based on data from previous years.

Damned lies and statistics

According to US author Mark Twain, don’t forget there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

When someone with a vested interest quotes a statistic, listen carefully to what they say, as the figures may be twisted to support a weak argument.

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Tenant Relations and Dealing With Complaints

One of the keys to successful property renting is having good tenant relations and quickly responding to complaints (including repair requests).