Recent studies have shown that not all tenants are aware of the legal issues they face when renting. For example, the Legal Education Foundation published a report, on 9th December, on citizens’ perception/understanding of different types of legal problems they face when renting and how they are addressed (if indeed they are).
Among other areas, the report looked at the link between whether a person owned or rented their property and the likelihood that they would be experiencing a legal problem. Somewhat alarmingly, the study revealed that those in rented accommodation are twice as likely to experience legal problems and they may not even be aware of the legal issues. The study showed that 1 in 10 renters had problems related to their housing.
Most of these people in this study were young renters, lone parents or cohabiters with children. The study suggested that that there may be some connection between the level of education, confidence and resources available to these individuals. They may require further assistance to recognise the legal issues and resolve the same.
It could be said that young adults, for example university students, who rent, do not yet have the education or confidence to recognise or address the legal issues. But why are lone parents and cohabiters falling into this category?
Participants in this study were given hypothetical scenarios regarding rented housing problems, such as landlords’ right to gain access to address disrepair, landlords’ repairing obligations and unlawful eviction. While the overall results suggested that participants seemed to have a reasonable knowledge of these issues, only 59% gave decisive correct answers to all six questions which were posed to them.
An issue of concern arising from these results is that, although their understanding of housing issues were far from high, it appeared that many tenants do have some understanding of their rights. If this is the case, why aren’t they addressing them? Is it the case that tenants, such as lone parents, do not want to address the issues with their landlord because they do not want to ‘rock the boat’? Are tenants in fear of being evicted for addressing their legal rights? Or is there a lack of assistance?
Tenants can of course seek legal advice for their housing matters, however, the study showed that a worryingly low 24% of participants were aware that legal aid is still available for some housing issues. Only 40% recognised that solicitors can provide assistance with housing issues. A staggering 73% of participants said they would handle their housing problems alone or get only informal advice.
This is despite the fact that funding remains available for a number of housing issues. A tenant is provided several funding options to address their legal issues such as Legal Aid, fixed fee offers or even conditional fee agreements. Tenants can and should seek assistance to address any issues they face such as disrepair or unlawful eviction. Tenants are in fact not alone.
While there are a number of issues raised in the report, the issue that struck us most of all was the frequency of housing issues and the lack of knowledge about how to resolve these issues, either independently or with advice. Tenants who are more vulnerable or have less knowledge of renting should have access to information about their rights and tenants should not be scared of seeking assistance to enable them to assert those rights.
There should also be more publicity on funding options and what assistance is available. It seems that perhaps public information about the cuts to legal aid has left many people with the incorrect impression that there is no help available to them at all.
This is only one study that highlights the lack of awareness and in fact it may not just be lone parents or young adults who may not have the knowledge or confidence to address these issues.