New analysis has revealed that one in three rental homes with the lowest rents in England are regarded as not decent, with over a quarter of a million households raising infants in privately rented properties that fail to meet the standards of decent homes. According to a study of official figures, the number of families with children aged below four living in squalid conditions has risen by approximately 75,000 since 2007, with conditions including rat infestations, broken heating and damp walls.

The amount of rented accommodation has doubled since 2000, with 4.8 million homes rented across England, as the construction of social and private housing has dramatically slowed since the financial crisis, with thousands of new landlords entering the market for profitable financial returns on property investment with low interest rates.

Co-author of the report and senior research fellow for the Centre of Housing Policy at the University of York, Julie Rugg, has emphasised how deeply concerning it is that so many families live in squalid conditions. A disproportionately high proportion of families with infants and babies rent within the private rented sector, and there is expressed concern for the long-term health effects of living in mouldy, damp homes which offer poor thermal comfort. The Centre has also warned of a variety of slum tenure, which has become prevalent at the lower end of the rental market due to welfare cuts, as landlords cut back on repairs and maintenance.

As one in five of the highest priced rents and one in three of the lowest priced rental properties are categorised as non-decent, it proves that this problem is universal, and experienced by tenants across the board. Approximately 1.2 million homes across England fail to satisfy the decent homes standard, with suggestions that landlords are likely responsible for these shortcomings. Properties should be in reasonable repair, and safe from hazards to safety and health, with reasonable insulation, heating and modern facilities.

Legislation from successive governments has failed tenants of all generations, and campaign groups such as Shelter have described the private rented market as unregulated. The government has stated that it will begin constructing a public database of rogue landlords who have been convicted. Minimum tenancies of three years are also expected to provide tenants with greater leverage to protest against poor conditions. The new Fitness for Human Habitation Bill is also expected to allow tenants to take landlords to county court with evidence proving that their accommodation is unfit. This suggests that a fundamental rethink is needed on the sector and the role it plays in the housing market.

The Centre for Housing Policy has called for rental properties to be subject to annual inspections from independent assessors, to be funded by each landlord. Any failure to pass this inspection would result in a ban on letting the property. Currently, there is no regulation which defines the minimum standards for renting a property to tenants, with enforcement only applicable once an inspection has been conducted by the council. Political leadership is also required to root out the small number of rogue landlords who have no place within the housing sector.

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