Blog Post

Empowering Tenants to Drive Real Change in the Private Rental Sector

In the absence of any new enforcement from government, Marks Out Of Tenancy allows renters to take matters into their own hands

The State Of It

The number of households renting from private landlords has doubled since the year 2000 to 4.6m but quality of housing and protection for private tenants has not kept pace.

According to Environmental Consultant Dr Stephen Battersby, there are 4 times more damp homes in the private rented sector (PRS) than in the social rented sector.

Four years after the Tories promised to reform the private rented sector tenants are as vulnerable as ever to bad landlords. ‘No fault’ evictions, known as Section 21 evictions, are in fact soaring – up 76% on last year according to the BBC. While figures are skewed by the ban on evictions during the pandemic, in the first quarter of 2022, claims and orders in private landlords’ possession cases had returned to a similar level to 2019.

This is a miserable situation for private renters in this country – paying steep sums for terrible conditions and insecurity, while the government drags its feet over promised reforms.

When the Renters Reform Bill was finally announced last year in the Queen’s Speech, long-awaited by organisations like Marks Out Of Tenancy and our colleagues at the Renters Reform Coalition, one thing that was notably lacking was details of any extra money or enforcement powers or bodies which will be put in place to back up the new rules.

Herald A Substantial Shift

In the absence of any new enforcement from government, Marks Out Of Tenancy allows renters to take matters into their own hands by providing written feedback and a score for the landlord, property and area. This gives tenants a much needed mechanism to call out sub-standard properties and problem landlords, providing desperately needed transparency and accountability in the PRS. 

“A longstanding characteristic of the sector is poor information and communication,” writes Professor Alex Marsh of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence.  

He continues: “Small-scale landlordism coupled with transient tenants compounded, in many areas, by high demand means that there is a market for poor quality and the market does not discipline poor quality providers. The arrival of websites like Marks Out Of Tenancy may eventually herald a substantial shift in this dynamic: they allow the market to develop a form of memory.”

Meanwhile current enforcement falls short. Convictions of rogue landlords under the Prevention of Eviction Act 1977 remain startlingly low; a May 2022 report by Safer Housing shows that of a total of 6,930 reported offences under the act in 2020 only 23 had proceedings brought against them and only 12 resulted in a conviction. 

The PRS has been left to self-regulate for too long and it simply has not worked. Landlord associations and voluntary landlord registration schemes on their own can’t regulate landlords, and overstretched local authorities can’t do any more to challenge bad landlords than they already are doing – but there is space for a regulatory force outside the market and the state.

Introducing ‘Decentred Regulation’

The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence makes the case for ‘decentred’ regulation in response to the current crisis in the PRS in a 2020 report entitled Improving Compliance with Private Rented Sector Legislation (page 34). 

The report explains: “Much regulatory thinking starts from the state – in the case of the PRS: local authorities, licensing agencies, trading standards and the police – as the core of the regulatory regime. Decentring regulation is an invitation to look more widely at the organisational landscape of a policy sector to understand what else is going on and which other organisations and social actors are acting in a regulatory capacity. Approaching regulation as “decentred” frequently signals a concern with processes of self-regulation.”

This is precisely what Marks Out Of Tenancy exists to do. As the report states, Marks Out Of Tenancy is a platform that seeks to regulate quality in the PRS via tenant feedback and rating completely independently of the state.

In the context of decentred regulation, Ben Yarrow, CEO of Marks Out Of Tenancy says:

“Imagine a scenario where a local authority had imposed restrictions on properties that can be used as Airbnb rentals – and the Airbnb platform reported back to a local authority when a property was being let without a licence. Or imagine a scenario where Checkatrade or Trustatrader reported non-compliant plumbers who were operating without Gas Safe certification. These scenarios are unlikely to occur – these companies would be hurting their own business by reporting their own customers, however Marks Out Of Tenancy differs significantly in that we have no vested financial interest in the rental transaction.”

Marks Out Of Tenancy needs help threading review data with enforcement; while a well-publicised bad landlord may struggle to find a new tenant, all the bad reviews in the world will not force them to make the necessary repairs if they are not minded to. This is where it becomes essential to work closely with existing regulatory and enforcement bodies at the Local Authority level. 

For our local authority partners, we provide legally compliant, timely and accurate data from tenant reviews.

On a basic level it enables licensing and enforcement teams to find out:

  • Which properties are being rented
  • Who was acting as the landlord
  • How many people were living in the property
  • If the property needed a licence
  • If it was licensed at the time it was being rented
  • If the property complied with Minimum Level of Energy Efficiency (MEES) standards

Through the Marks Out Of Tenancy portal, housing officers are also able to open communications with the tenant who left the review.

Using pre-written templates, officers are also able to send letters through the Marks Out Of Tenancy portal, addressed to landlords of flagged properties inviting them to comply with licensing requirements, MEES legislation or even a friendly chat.

The platform continues to grow in scope and ambition, having recently secured a significant grant to fund our work for the next three years. This funding will enable tenants in the London boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth to make better-informed decisions about where they choose to rent. The platform reach will also be expanding nationally at the same time.

The Ask

A single review of a landlord and rental property can make a huge difference to the decision making process of an individual renter – but we’ve built the technology and infrastructure to impact and drive change across the whole industry. If every tenant used the platform they could force a substantial shift in the way landlords treated them.

We want Marks Out Of Tenancy to help bring about a shift in the fundamental relationship between tenants and landlords. But it requires stakeholders like Local Authorities and existing regulatory bodies to allow us in – this platform can be a valuable resource when combined with agencies with enforcement powers against bad landlords.

Marks Out Of Tenancy invites housing professionals at Local Authority level to begin looking outside of the purely enforcement and regulatory systems currently at play, recognise that trade associations or professional landlord bodies do not aid with actively rooting out the poorest quality providers, but rather, that tenants on the frontline can provide an invaluable insight into the service provided by landlords and the products they’re obligated to maintain.

Ben Yarrow is CEO of Marks Out Of Tenancy, a PropTech firm focused on improving housing conditions.