- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
The Welsh Government must improve tenants’ rights and crack down on “rogue” landlords to avoid a potential housing crisis. That is the view of Mid and West Wales Assembly Member Joyce Watson.
Speaking in a debate at the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday (18 October), the Labour AM called for greater protection for tenants who make complaints against their landlord, and for “consumer-focussed” tenancy contracts.
“Let’s be clear – the majority of private landlords are good and we should seek to engage with them. However, we also need enforcement against rogue, negligent and exploitative ones”, Mrs Watson said.
There are currently around 91,000 people on council housing waiting lists in Wales, while the average age of first-time buyers in 37. Last year 1,260 households were accepted as homeless in Wales following the loss of their rented or tied accommodation.
Mrs Watson suggested that social housing shortages, the decline in home ownership and a continuation of restricted mortgage lending means the importance of the private rented sector in meeting Wales’ housing need will grow significantly in coming years.
“The private rented sector will only continue to grow in coming years, so we need to act now on tenants and landlords’ rights and obligations”, she argued.
Housing charity Shelter Cymru says it deals with a disproportionately high number of problems on behalf of tenants in private accommodation. Although the private rented sector in Wales accounts for 12 per cent of dwellings, the tenants of that sector comprise almost 30 per cent of Shelter Cymru’s client base. In 2010-11, Shelter saw 2,142 tenants from that sector and dealt with 7,120 problems. Those include issues such as harassment by landlords, dampness, overcrowding, affordability and disputes over tenancy terms.
Mrs Watson, who was a member of the Assembly committee that published a report on the private rented housing in February this year, suggested local authorities already have the legal powers to tackle bad landlords, but they often go unused because they are reliant on tenants making complaints.
“Tenants are unwilling to do that because of fear of eviction or they simply do not know who to turn to for advice and support”, she said, adding:
“I want a more consumer-focused approach to the sector and I agree that local authorities should provide consumer information to help tenants to avoid bad landlords, while at the same time encouraging good ones. A simplified, standardised consumer contract between tenant and landlord would help the tenant and the landlord to have a better understanding of rights and obligations”.
The Welsh Government has announced its intention to introduce a housing Bill to improve standards of management and property conditions in the private rented sector. The Bill will be published before 2015.
In response to the debate, the Minister for Housing Huw Lewis said: “Security and clarity of tenure, quality and management of accommodation and how to ensure that tenants know their rights and obligations are important for us as a Government as we take this legislation forward”.