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The current nightmare on rental street is an unfortunate reality for many tenants today. Shelter, the UK housing and homelessness charity, estimates that more than 250,000 people – from students to single mothers, the sick and the elderly – are currently living in rented accommodation that is unfit for human habitation and/or comes complete with a landlord that exploits or harasses them in some way.

Now a new scheme to ensure that lettings agents and landlords uphold renters’ basic human rights to fair, respectful and humane treatment has been launched in one of Britain’s major maritime university cities and the European Green Capital of the year, Bristol.

In October 2015, Bristol City Council and the first of the city’s private lettings agencies made history by adopting the charter proposal put forward by social justice organisation, ACORN Communities. Their decision to act on housing injustice signifies a hard-earned victory for over 10,000 Bristol renters. Following a series of impassioned demonstrations by local residents, they are now nearer the end of a long campaign to improve Bristol’s housing crisis.

According to the ACORN Communities’ website, the new Bristol Ethical Lettings Charter is “a declaration of decency and a statement of intent, to help create a fair, professional and ethical private rental sector in our city”. From November 2015, the original charter is likely to undergo a process of amendment by Bristol City Council, in order to make it legally watertight, before being released in its final form towards the end of this year.

Currently the charter calls upon landlords and lettings agents to ensure:

  • Reasonable deposits charged for all rental properties
  • Guaranteed deposit protection for all types of tenancy agreements
  • An end to letting agent fees charged to tenants
  • An end to rolling tenancies
  • Inclusivity for renters from all sections of the community
  • Fair and controlled rent increases
  • Safe and efficient repairs to rental properties
  • A plan of action for tackling damp in all rental properties
  • Regular safety checks on all rental appliances and utilities
  • Installation and regular testing/maintenance of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in all rental properties (which, as of October 2015, is now a legal requirement under English law. Fines of up to £5,000 may be charged to landlords for non-compliance with the new rules).

Bristol mayor George Ferguson announced that the adoption of this voluntary scheme will encourage participating landlords to attain bronze, silver or gold standards of ethical lettings compliance and thus it is envisaged that this will drive up living standards in all rental properties in the city.

It is also hoped that this new charter will be the catalyst for ensuring wider adoption across Britain, so that eventually it will be possible for everybody to access good quality, affordable and stable housing. In addition to this positive local step for Bristolian renters, recent legislative changes such as the reduction in tax breaks for buy-to-let landlords and the outlawing of revenge evictions under Section 21 of the Housing Act are set to provide the proverbial message in a bottle to the rental SOS of tenants nationwide, who are caught up in the current UK rental market storm.