accessibility in the private rented sector

The NLA Policy team is leading a project to look at how landlords can be supported to offer accessible properties to tenants who need them. Amos Kimani, Policy Executive, explains why this is an increasingly important issue and how we are working with a range of organisations to open up an under-served market for private landlords.

The NLA Policy team identified accessibility as a growing challenge, and an untapped opportunity, with many landlords unaware of either the increasing demand from tenants or the substantial financial support available to make adaptations.

We believe landlords should be well-equipped to respond to the projected changing needs of tenants, and able to factor this into their planning to future-proof their portfolios. To this end, we initiated work with a wide range of stakeholders working on accessible housing and adapting properties, to understand how to facilitate landlords’ ability to engage with tenants effectively and open up new, and growing, markets.

Why is accessibility in rental properties important?

The private rented sector (PRS) is now the second largest tenure in the country, with around 20 percent of households making their homes in the sector. Alongside this, we are seeing changing demographics with people remaining in the sector for longer, as well as more older people living in the PRS. While young people are still the largest proportion of private tenants, older tenants are the fastest growing demographic. Many of these individuals will remain in the PRS across their lifetime.

Influenced by this, tenants’ needs are changing. As people age, they need more accessible properties. But it’s not just older people who are looking for suitable homes. Some tenants are unable to access social housing due to long waiting periods. Others value the choice the PRS offers compared to the social sector. This has led to increasing demand for accessible PRS homes.

However, tenants often report that they are unable to access adapted properties to rent privately. Research from Abode Impact with wheelchair user households found that, although 18 percent of respondents currently lived in the PRS, 50 percent were actively seeking to enter the sector, and 90 percent had experienced barriers in doing so.

There has also been growing political attention on the issue, with this year’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ageing and Older People inquiry, to which we contributed, highlighting the need for the Government to work collaboratively with the PRS to help landlords make their properties more accessible.

At the same time, the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People forecast that the number of households in the PRS headed by someone aged 65 or over could treble in the next three decades, from 450,000 today to over 1.5 million by 2046.

Funding for accessible property

Research via our quarterly survey found that nearly seven in 10 of our members would be more open to letting to tenants with accessibility needs if there was financial support.

Landlords have a duty not to discriminate against tenants with disabilities, and must not withhold consent unreasonably for adaptations to a property. However, for landlords, facilitating the supply of accessible and adapted properties rests on their access to finance the works. The good news is that financial support to fund adaptations is Government backed and is provided as a means-tested grant for tenants. This is available across all tenures, and landlords can also apply on their tenant’s behalf.

The fund is known as the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) and is administered by local authorities to varying limits across the UK – £30,000 in England, £36,000 in Wales and £25,000 in Northern Ireland. Similar funding is also available in Scotland. Top-ups to the maximum award can be awarded at the discretion of the local authority on a case-by-case basis. Although the grant is tenure-blind, only seven percent of DFGs go to private tenants.

Eligibility for the funding relies on an intention for the tenant to occupy the premises for five years. It is important to note that this intention does not translate into a fixed term and a declaration confirming intent would be enough.

How marketable is an accessible property?

Through our research, we found that making a house accessible can involve minor and major works which can include grab rails, lowering of light fittings, access ramps and stairlifts. However, for many, adaptations still conjure up hospital-like installations that are sterile and would put off even those in need of support. Therefore, we reached out to specialist sector stakeholders to help us increase our understanding of current practice of what works.

There are a number of providers who now offer adaptations which blend in with the tenant’s expectations of a modern home, and many landlords may have accessibility features of their properties which they are unaware of. By promoting the accessible features of a property, landlords can broaden the market who would consider renting from them. We found that due to a lack of suitable accommodation this tenant group ends up staying for longer and looking after the property, all of which means minimal voids periods and stable returns. 

Changing perceptions

For many landlords, silence is golden when it comes to the relationship with tenants because it is assumed – and reasonably so – that they would reach out if they had concerns. However, tenants with accessibility needs report feeling intimidated to start the conversation about changes for fear of eviction. Therefore, we would encourage landlords to help dispel such perceptions by being open about their willingness to consider reasonable changes that would improve a tenant’s quality of life.

How we are supporting landlords

We spoke to a number of stakeholders in this sector, and there was agreement that landlords needed more support and guidance in order to help cater to tenants with accessibility needs. We have undertaken research with our members and will be producing a report with recommendations for how the sector, local authorities and Government can work better together to encourage more accessible homes in the PRS.

We also hosted a roundtable with sector stakeholders including housing organisations, disability charities and the public sector, with the intention of developing guidance that will support landlords to understand how they can engage with accessibility – from advertising properties, to discussing options with tenants, and funding adaptations.

Both pieces are expected to be launched in the autumn. Keep an eye on our blog, website, newsletter and UK Landlord magazine for more information.

We are looking for case studies to feature in our report on accessibility in the PRS. Have you ever adapted homes for your tenants? What’s worked well, and what have the challenges been? Contact us at policy@landlords.org.uk or on 020 7840 8938 if you would like to share your experience.

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9 August 2019 - 9:46am
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