Fears about potential eviction, blacklisting, and rent increases are stopping four in ten private tenants from making complaints about or requesting repairs on rental properties.
A new report by the Citizens Advice claims that there is an entrenched culture of fear among private renters, which largely explains why properties in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to the independent charity for help with.
The study found that more than two in five private renters (41%) - the equivalent of 1.85 million households - have waited longer than they usually should for their landlord to carry out a repair in the last four years, and the Citizens Advice now wants to see the significant power imbalance between landlords and tenants addressed.
In the last year Citizens Advice helped people with more than 16,000 problems around private rented sector homes in poor condition.
Private landlords in the PRS have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time - usually a month or less, or 24 hours for the most serious cases.
When renters wait longer than is deemed reasonable a court can order a landlord to carry out a repair, or award financial compensation. In some cases they would receive both. But this new research suggests that private renters are not holding their landlord to account because of concerns they could lose their home.
Some 57% of renters said they did not want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of being evicted.
Half of renters - 51% - also said another concern was that their landlord would increase their rent if they continued complaining.
Rather than pursuing the issue with their landlord or taking formal action, Citizens Advice found that renters take matters into their own hands, with 30% carrying out repairs themselves and 14% paying for repairs out of their own pocket.
One family who asked Citizens Advice for help had spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a range of issues in their home, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.
Citizens Advice is calling for better protection against retaliatory evictions by rolling out independent complaints bodies - or ADR schemes - across the private rented sector.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation.
“Homes in poor condition are the most common private rented sector issue people turn to Citizens Advice for help with. Issues such as broken fittings, faulty electricals or leaks can make life hard for renters and can even lead to ill health. But renters aren't pursuing their rights to repair because they are worried their landlord will put up their rent or evict them. To add to this, formal routes to redress aren’t being used either because they’re too difficult and expensive.
“Rent is the most expensive costs households face, but protections for renters simply don’t reflect this. The new government needs to make it easier for people to have their rights enforced when their home is in poor condition.
“The redress process also needs to give renters protection from retaliatory action, so they feel confident reporting a problem in their home and don’t feel like their only option is to dip into their own pocket.”