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Research shows renters ‘twice as likely to experience legal problems as homeowners’December 9, 2015

People living in rented accommodation are twice as likely to experience some kinds of non-housing-related legal problems as those living in other types of housing, according to a major research study.

The study, funded by The Legal Education Foundation, is the first time researchers have looked at the link between rented accommodation and legal problems that are not directly related to their housing.

The main findings of the report, ‘Legal Problems of Renters’ by Pascoe Pleasence and Nigel Balmer include:

  • One in 10 renters had a legal problem relating directly to their housing, such as disrepair or eviction.
  • Renters are twice as likely as those with mortgages to suffer certain types of other legal issues, such as neighbour disputes, debt, or benefits problems (see notes for editors).
  • Renters’ housing problems take a long time to resolve: half were unresolved after a year; a quarter were unresolved after two years.
  • Private renters are more likely than those renting in the public sector to have non-housing related legal problems (40 per cent, compared with 32 per cent).
  • Renters most likely to suffer legal problems are the young, single parents and cohabitants with children.
  • Few renters realised that their housing difficulty was a legal problem: nearly half (47 per cent) put it down to ‘bad luck’. Only 15 per cent identified it as a legal problem.
  • Nearly three-quarters of renters with housing problems tried to resolve them on their own or only took informal advice. A total of 10 per cent sought help either from the advice sector (5 per cent) or a solicitor (5 per cent).
  • Those who own their homes outright are the least likely to suffer legal problems.
  • Respondents found legal problems to do with rented housing harder to understand than they did other types of problem, say, to do with owned housing or consumer products.

The findings are based on interviews with 4,000 people, who were questioned on two occasions, two years apart, to trace the impact of legal problems over time.

The study uncovered widespread lack of awareness among the general population over the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. Significantly, those living in rented accommodation had no greater understanding of the law around renting than those living in other types of housing, despite being directly affected by these issues.

Matthew Smerdon, chief executive of The Legal Education Foundation said:

‘One of the most surprising findings from this important piece of research is the degree to which people renting their homes are more prone to experiencing legal problems across the board – not just in relation to their housing. Renters are twice as likely as those with mortgages to have problems with debt, welfare benefits or neighbours. Few renters realise that these are legal problems, mainly putting their difficulties down to bad luck, which makes people reluctant to seek professional help. Many renters may be failing to have their rights protected as a result.’

Commenting on the Legal Education Foundation’s research, Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb said:

‘Sadly – as our housing shortage pushes more and more people into broken private renting – it’s no surprise that so many renters don’t know their legal rights. Every day, we hear from families living in homes that put their health and wellbeing at risk, with rogue landlords who refuse to keep their properties safe and decent. At the same time, many renters are dealing with issues like unprotected deposits and unfair tenancy agreements, often not knowing what their rights are, or that they have any at all.

‘Any renter who is unsure of their rights should get advice right away. Shelter is here to help, and our free expert advice is available online or through our helpline.’

A summary of the research is available here

The full report is available here

For more information, contact Natalie Byrom, The Legal Education Foundation, natalie.byrom@TheLEF.org; 0203 0055775

Notes for editors:

  1. The Legal Education is a charity which aims to promote the advancement of legal education and the study of law in all its branches.
  2. The findings in ‘Legal problems of renters’ are drawn from ‘How People Understand and Interact with the Law,’ by Prof Pascoe Pleasence, Dr Nigel J Balmer, and Dr Catrina Denvir. The research is published by PPSR, Cambridge 2015. Their analysis is based on analysis of interviews conducted for the English and Welsh Civil and Social Justice Panel Survey in 2010 and 2012.
  3. The researchers found that 16 per cent of public renters had problems with neighbours, compared with 8 per cent for those with mortgages; the comparable figures for debt problems were 10 per cent and 4 per cent; and for benefits problems, 7 per cent and 3 per cent.
  4. The 2011 Census showed that 36 per cent (8.3 million) households in England and Wales were rented.
  5. Shelter is a charity which helps 4 million people a year fight bad housing and homelessness. For free and independent advice from Shelter visit shelter.org.uk/advice or call the helpline on 0808 800 4444