Nearly a third of properties in the private rented sector contain major safety hazards, according to data contained in a government survey of UK housing stock.
The annual English Housing Survey shows that 28.2% of dwellings in the private rented sector have a category 1 hazard compared to 14.5% of local authority housing, 10.8% of housing association accommodation, and 21.5% of owner-occupied dwellings.
Hazards qualifying as category 1 under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System include those that can cause death, lung cancer, permanent loss of consciousness, 80% burn injuries, the loss of a hand or foot, eye disorders, heart attacks and poisoning. Under the Housing Act 2004, these types of hazard create an obligation for local authorities to either force the property to be vacated or to require immediate repair.
The most dangerous type of property is converted flats, with 37.7% containing at least one category 1 hazard. Older properties are also more dangerous, with 41% of buildings constructed before 1919 containing category 1 hazards compared to 4.6% of properties built in the past 20 years.
A total of almost 5m properties contain such hazards, with the most commonly occurring being those that cause falls, such as showers and baths, stairs with poorly fitted handles and grab rails, and inadequate space.
Newspapers recently reported how an 85-year-old man in Hackney, east London, became trapped in his bath with no food or heating for five days after falling into the tub. Fortunately he was able to drink from the sink next to his head (suggesting there was very little space in the bathroom) and was only rescued after friends became worried about his absence.
The second biggest hazard, particularly for those aged 45 or more, was excess cold. The survey said a healthy indoor temperature was about 21C, and serious health risks occur once the temperature falls below 16C, while below 10C the risk of hypothermia becomes “appreciable, especially for the elderly”.
It said: “The percentage rise in deaths in winter is greater in dwellings with low energy efficiency ratings. There is a gradient of risk with age of the property, the risk being greatest in dwellings built before 1850, and lowest in the more energy efficient dwellings built after 1980.”
Other hazards included pollutants such as asbestos, biocides, carbon monoxide, lead and radiation, electrical hazards and fire. Although occupier behaviour was a major factor in more than 80% of fires, more than 2,000 fires a year are associated with wiring and cabling.
Electronic conveyancing company SearchFlow estimates it would cost UK property owners more than £52bn to erradicate the hazards and make repairs. However, the majority of hazards can be remedied relatively cheaply, it said, with the cost of repairing stairs, for example, to remove a category 1 hazard less than £1,000 in 85% of cases reports The Guardian.
Stuart Pearce, chief exceutive of SearchFlow, said: “When private dwellings are assessed by local authorities, there’s a one in five chance there will be a hazard present which requires immediate attention. This is a cost most property owners don’t factor into their plans and can therefore prove very hard to deal with.
“If you don’t make the required repairs – even if you can’t afford to – local authorities have the power to issue prohibition orders, which mean you aren’t legally allowed to live there any longer. In this situation, the only option for the owner may be to sell at a knockdown price.”