The number of households renting privately in England in the year 2014/2015 fell by 99,000 from the year before.
It is the first fall in 17 years.
Home ownership did go up last year – but only very slightly in comparison – while, curiously, the overall number of households in England dropped.
The figures emerge when you compare the latest English Housing Survey with earlier versions, as EYE has done, and are known to be raising eyebrows in the industry.
According to the new survey published yesterday, the overall number of households in England fell from 22.6m in the 2013/2014 survey to 22.5m last year.
No explanation has been offered for the apparent fall, which may have happened at a time of increased population.
The steep fall in private renting is perhaps more surprising since total numbers of owner-occupation households were up just 5,000.
Although a tiny increase, it is the first time since 2005 that the number of home owners has risen.
Of the overall 22.5m households in England last year, 14.3m, equating to 64%, were owner occupiers.
Of the total number of households in England, 33% owned their homes outright.
The number of mortgaged owner occupiers was down 84,000, while the number of owner-occupied households with no mortgage was up by 89,000.
In 2014/2105 there were 564,000 first-time buyers, a decline from 815,00 in the previous year.
However, it is the renting figures that will cause the most surprise: they show falls across England, in London, and in households under the age of 35.
According to the new survey, 4.3m households (19%) in England were privately renting, down from 4.4m the year before.
A further 3.9m (17%) were in the social rented sector, unchanged from the previous year.
The number of households in the private rented sector was down by 99,000 households – following a rise of 421,000 the year before.
The number of private rental households in London was also down, by 116,000, after a 247,000 rise in the previous financial year.
Lucian Cook, head of research at Savills, said it was too early to speculate on one survey.
He said: “The short-term trends shown in the latest English Housing Survey need to be treated with caution, given the reported fall in private renting in 2014/15 follows a particularly large increase in the preceding year.
“Behind the short-term volatility, levels of private renting among under 35s are still up by over 1m in the past decade.”
The survey also found:
* Private rents did not increase between 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, other than in London where there was an average rise of £17 per week to £298.
* Across England as a whole, average private rents were £179 per week in the private sector and £99 in the social rented sector.
* The private rented sector had the second highest proportion of households with dependent children, at 37.4%. Mortgaged owner-occupier households were higher, at 45.9%, and social renting households lower at 34.2%. Only 7.6% of households owning their home outright had dependent children.