Councils in the North East have been accused of failing to protect private rental tenants from poor living conditions and bad landlords.
Those criticisms come from an independent expert, and landlords' representatives, reacting to figures obtained by ITV News Tyne Tees that show local authorities here received more than 5,000 complaints last year, but only successfully prosecuted five landlords.
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Rebecca Kinnell moved into her private rental home in the Kenton area of Newcastle in August 2016, with her two children.
She pays her rent of £600 per month, but claims there have been a number of problems:
- damp and damage done by a flooded kitchen before her tenancy began, including a cupboard that has now collapsed
- a broken dishwasher containing dirty water
- a freezer that she had not used because it contains remnants of old food from before her tenancy
- an oven that falls forwards when you open the door - which she says is dangerous around her children
- a boiler that stopped working, meaning they had no hot water or heating
Rebecca said her landlord has repeatedly failed to respond to calls and emails, or make the necessary repairs.
We also could not reach her landlord for a response.
Rebecca complained to Newcastle City Council, and they helped install a new boiler.
However, she has been left disappointed by their response to her other problems.
She told us: "Environmental Health [said]... 'it's cosmetic damages, there's nothing we can do.' How can it be classed as cosmetic damages when never had an oven we could eat out of for three months? It just wasn't fair."
Newcastle City Council told us they had made "every effort" to help Rebecca, and are now taking enforcement action against her landlord.
The housing charity Shelter says that more than 300,000 homes are now privately rented across the North East - and it sees a growing number of tenants facing poor living conditions.
Local authorities have responsibility for regulating landlords, and powers to impose legal notices, or enforcement actions, to get them to sort out problems, or prosecute them in court.
We put in Freedom of Information requests to all 12 local authorities in the North East.
They told us, for 2015-16:
- 5,068 private rental tenants complained to their councils about poor living conditions or bad landlords
- 2,591 inspections were carried out by council teams in response
- 814 enforcement actions were issued by councils to get landlords to fix problems
- 5 successful prosecutions of landlords were carried out by councils
We showed the figures an independent housing expert.
Steve Simpson, regional director of the National Landlords Association, told us: "I think it's difficult for them [local authorities], but I do think they could do more, and I would like to see them do more.
"It's very strange to say 'prosecute another landlord' put it would send a clear message that they're serious about making sure tenants are protected."
We asked councils around the region for their responses.
They told us they "strive wherever possible to secure satisfactory outcomes for private tenants who come to us with issues by informal means."
They also said "we do not hesitate to take statutory enforcement action, where the informal approach does not bring a satisfactory outcome.”
Middlesbrough Council defended their work at dealing with private rental tenants' complaints.
Plans for more powers
Over the last few years, the government has announced several measures aimed at giving councils more powers to protect tenants.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 contained provision for councils to be able to fine landlords up to £30,000 - many times higher than the fines imposed by courts currently - but this is not yet in force.
They have also suggested banning orders for rogue landlords, but the consultation on that is still ongoing.
The housing white paper published earlier this week also contained proposals for minimum term tenancies for new-build rental homes.
The focus of the white paper, though, is building new homes to deal with the 'housing crisis' that has taken hold down south.
There is not such demand on property in the North East though, which is why we see so many empty or derelict homes.
It should be a renters' market here, but with property less valuable and rents lower, it can result in a race to the bottom in terms of living conditions.