Rubbish tips and mice: one mum’s story of the private rental sector
Damp, mould, mice and cockroaches. Water running down walls and coming through ceilings. Aggressive or unresponsive landlords and the almost constant fear of eviction.
This is a portrait of life for some of the most vulnerable homeless families now housed in privately rented accommodation, according to a joint report for the two biggest homeless charities Shelter and Crisis.
In the biggest survey of its kind, they followed 128 formerly homeless households over 19 months as they experienced life in the private rented sector.
There are now 3.8 million people living in the private rented sector – and it is increasingly being used to house the homeless after government changes left local authorities free to discharge their responsibility to homeless families this way.
Yet the ending of a private tenancy is now the leading cause of statutory homelessness.
And that, the report argues, leaves some of the most vulnerable families trapped in a cycle of insecurity and despair – either unable to get landlords to deal with poor conditions or simply too terrified of being evicted to even ask.
Nicky is a single mother who became homeless after her relationship broke down.
The local authority found her a private flat and, she says, told her if she didn’t accept it, she would be taken off the waiting list.
The flat was cramped and the garden outside used as a rubbish tip. Within weeks she realised it was infested with red ants and mice. Nicky, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, said she begged the landlord for help, but nothing happened.
“Because it was so small, we ate on our laps. We’d put the plates down for a second, then I’d look down to find hundreds of ants crawling all over them,” she said.
Before going to bed at night, she says she and her five year old son would go round stuffing plastic bags into any hole they could find, desperate to stop the mice getting into their room. By morning there were still mouse droppings everywhere.
“We had to disinfect the flat every day. It was so stressful.”
Eventually the landlord said he wanted them out. Very weak after undergoing a mastectomy, she said she didn’t have the strength to fight. She’s now moved out into another privately rented flat and is much happier.
And that – for the two charities who’ve drawn up the report – encapsulates the problem of housing homeless people in private rented accommodation. Too much relies on the individual landlord and too little is done to regulate the sector.
The report calls for better enforcement of the laws on conditions of properties, moves to strengthen the regulations against problem landlords and crucial to many we spoke too – longer, more secure tenancies.
As one tenant told us after months battling with his landlord over appalling, damp conditions: “They think because you are unemployed and you’ve been homeless, you should put up with anything. We’re not really seen as being important.”
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