By Sophia Sun
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nearly four in 10 private renters in England have lived in unhealthy or dangerous conditions, a survey by housing charity Shelter showed on Tuesday, with the coronavirus pandemic highlighting the "grim reality" of millions of tenants.
Urgent action is needed to increase the rights of tenants, about half of whom said they had not asked for repairs for fear of eviction, said Shelter, reporting a spike in calls for help about poor conditions in privately rented homes due to COVID-19.
"Over the past year, our homes have been our first line of defence against coronavirus," Polly Neate, the charity's chief executive, said in a written statement.
"Yet this pandemic has exposed the grim reality that too many of the country's 11 million renters - including key workers, families and the elderly - wake up every day to mould, pests and dangerous hazards."
About 65% of households in Britain own their own homes, with a further 19% in the private rental sector, according to official data released last year.
The government has ordered a halt to most evictions to protect tenants during the pandemic.
But renters said poor housing was taking a heavy toll as lockdowns keep many people at home for all but essential trips.
More than a third of private renters in England said their housing situation or the condition of their home made lockdown more difficult, found the YouGov survey for Shelter, which was conducted online among 551 private renters.
Just over 20% of respondents said they had experienced housing issues including damp, mould, condensation and excess cold during the previous month.
Another survey for Shelter among 553 private renters found 39% had been forced to live in unhealthy or dangerous conditions due to fears of eviction at some point, with 46% saying they had avoided asking for improvements for fear of losing their home.
Shelter said it had seen a 35% increase in contacts from private renters asking for advice about poor conditions in the year to March.
The charity has called for legal changes including abolishing "no fault" evictions, which it says would give tenants greater security to challenge poor conditions, and creating a national register of landlords.
(Reporting by Sophia Sun; Editing by Sonia Elks and Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)