British Queen celebrates

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has today announced a new initiative to help local authority housing enforcement officers acquire new skills to help them identify and deal with damp and

mouldy homes. He has also called for tougher sanctions for unscrupulous private landlords who let out sub-par homes.

In response to the urgent need for London councils to have greater capability to tackle poor and unsafe housing, Sadiq has helped to deliver crucial damp, condensation and mould remediation training. More than 70 local authority officers have so far received specific damp and mould training as part of the Mayor’s wider Better Renting programme.

The move aims to help London boroughs who are already working to tackle the scourge of poor quality housing, but have had their capacity to crack down on negligent landlords undermined by years of deep cuts to their budgets.

The Better Renting programme was launched by Sadiq in May 2020 to ensure that local authorities were equipped to drive up housing standards. This included the launch of a brand-new Private Rented Sector qualification aimed at upskilling enforcement officers so that London councils can clamp down on criminal landlords, support vulnerable tenants, and enforce safety standards.

To that end, Sadiq is also urging the Government to increase Rent Repayment Orders – legal orders which require rogue private landlords to pay back rent to tenants for various offences – from 12 months to two years’ worth of rent as a deterrent. New analysis reveals that in the case of a tenant paying the average London asking rent of £2,627 a month, Sadiq’s proposals could mean a pay-out of up to £63,000 for the worst offenders.

While sub-standard housing is a nationwide issue, it remains the case that private renters in London are disproportionately likely to be defined as ‘vulnerable’. Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of privately rented homes in London fail to meet the national Decent Homes Standard, with over 178,000 private rented properties in the capital classified as ‘non-decent’.

In the year to March 2022, Freedom of Information requests by campaign group Generation Rent found that damp and mould-related complaints were responsible for almost a third (28%) of category one hazards (‘Category 1’ hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System are deemed to pose a serious and immediate risk to health and safety) and those incidences reported to London councils amounted to more than twice the proportion seen across England as a whole.

The Mayor has been a persistent advocate for the rights of private renters, highlighting the devastating impacts of poor-quality homes, including prolonged exposure to damp and mould, on the physical and mental health of Londoners. He has repeatedly called on the Government to strengthen tenancy laws to make it harder for landlords to rent out properties in poor and dangerous conditions, often for outrageously high sums.

The Mayor is has also called for Ministers to devolve the power to implement an immediate two-year rent freeze and immediately pass the long-promised Renters Reform Bill, including the removal of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, to ensure that renters aren’t deterred from reporting damp and mould due to the risk of retaliatory eviction. 

The Mayor today renewed these calls while visiting a privately rented property in Lewisham with significant damp and mould issues. The tenant, a pregnant young mother with two children under the age of five, was forced into temporary accommodation in September after her flat was deemed unsafe by Lewisham’s PRS-qualified borough enforcement officer.

No remediation action has been taken by the private landlord to-date, despite the tenant raising this issue a year ago. Lewisham council have prohibited the property from being rented out and could take enforcement action if the landlord fails to take the appropriate steps to remediate the damp and mould throughout the property.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The provision of adequate housing is critical to building a better London for everyone and every single Londoner should have the right to a safe and secure home.

“That’s why I am funding the training of specialist officers to ensure homes meet a decent standard and why I am determined to see much tougher penalties for rogue landlords who rent out private properties in poor and dangerous conditions.  

“This action can only come from the Government, but the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement proved a missed opportunity to clamp down on sub-par housing, and invest in the delivery of more high-quality, affordable homes.

“Nevertheless, I will continue to do all I can support London’s 2.7m renters by calling on the Government to finally end no-fault evictions, give me the powers to freeze private rents and, deliver the £4.9bn a year required to build the affordable homes Londoners desperately need.”

Ben Twomey, Chief Executive of Generation Rent, said: “Damp and mould are one of the most common dangers in our homes, and can cause devastating health problems. There are a variety of causes, including defective roofing, poor insulation and faulty plumbing, but too often tenants who complain find themselves ignored by landlords, or even blamed for the damp and mould.

“Environmental health officers play a vital role in identifying the causes of a home’s damp problem and instructing the landlord to put it right. It’s very welcome to see London’s councils upskill more officers through this important mayoral initiative, which is a crucial step towards healthier private rented homes.”

Cllr Will Cooper, Lewisham Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing Management and Homelessness, said: “Too many private landlords are failing to tackle damp and mould in their properties, leaving tenants in unliveable conditions and putting them at risk of homelessness at a time when local services are already under immense strain.

“With more of our officers being trained up through the Mayor of London’s Better Renting programme, we are better placed to support tenants facing these issues, hold private landlords accountable and ensure action is taken. Yet with spiralling rents and the continued threat of no-fault evictions, many private renters are forced to choose between living in sub-standard accommodation or being made homeless.

“We need the Government to ensure the Mayor and local councils have the powers and funding necessary to improve private renting in London and tackle the housing crisis, so that everybody has a safe, secure place to call home.”

Kwajo Tweneboa, housing campaigner: “We now know that at its worst mould can kill, and in many cases, make you really sick. I’ve seen it with many families since I started campaigning two and a half years ago, I’ve also felt and witnessed the impact it has on mental health. The issue with mould in our homes has existed for generations but cannot continue. That’s why I’m glad to see the Mayor taking this action.

“A home should be a safe space where we feel most relaxed, but for far too many that isn’t the case. I’ve always been clear that tenants shouldn’t have to pay eye-wateringly high rents whilst being left to live in squalid conditions and having their health and safety risked. So, I support the Mayor in introducing the deterrent of asking landlords to reimburse rents to tenants if they refuse to take action with disrepair in their homes or issues with mould.

“I also agree we need the Government to scrap Section 21 sooner rather than later. From a campaigning perspective, I’ve seen the sheer misery it continues to cause families that just want a place they can call home. I also support the licensing scheme that has also been rolled out across London boroughs.”