Council lobbies government to ‘reform private letting’
We have become used to local authorities becoming increasingly interventionist in private lettings – landlord licensing regimes being perhaps the main example – but now a council is lobbying political parties to reform the entire sector. Hackney council in London is contacting political parties to urge them that, should they form the next government, they “improve standards and reign in rogue landlords, rent hikes and letting agency fees, and protect struggling families.”
The authority has laid out a 10 point plan which it believes would be straightforward to implement and of great benefit to the nine million private renters across the country.
It has also launched an online Change.org petition – primarily for its own residents although obviously available for all those who log on – which will be presented to the next government later in the year.
The 10 recommendations are:
– Inflation-capped rent rises to ensure greater security for tenants, particularly for families with children;
– Longer tenancies “for years, not months”;
– Stopping retaliatory evictions, by changing the law over notices seeking possession for assured shorthold tenancies;
– Fast-tracking licensing schemes “by cutting red tape for councils setting up licensing schemes to ensure high quality standards of accommodation and service”;
– Exploring incentives for responsible landlords, including the choice for tenants for direct payments of housing benefit to accredited landlords who offer longer tenancies and stable rents;
– Creating a national quality kitemark, so tenants can identify good quality accommodation;
– Establishing a public register of landlords and properties, to enable tenants to find out directly who they pay rent to;
– A national ban on rogue landlords “as with disgraced company directors” plus bigger fines and more consistent sentencing;
– Improved costs transparency, including making it mandatory for landlords to publish related costs of a property, such as utility bills, and for lettings agents to explain their fees;
– Improving safety including mandatory installation of fire and carbon monoxide detectors and mandatory annual electrical tests.
The council in Hackney claims that since 2011 private rents in the borough have risen by 21 percent, outstripping inflation, and the annual income needed to afford the average rent for a one bedroom home there is now £42,937.
It claims that nationally 39 percent of tenants live in poverty, and one in eight renters do not complain about poor conditions or challenge a rent increase because they fear retaliatory eviction.
The petition follows a review by a body called the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission which found that the number of privately-renting households in Hackney had doubled in the past decade, up to 32,000.
The commission was apparently presented with a report of evidence collected from tenants by local private renters campaign group Digs.
One anonymous case study from Hackney Wick, tells of a letting agent revaluing a home with a 50 per cent rent increase: “I want to feel like I know that I can pay my rent in three months’ time because it won’t be 50 per cent higher than it is at the moment. Really simple things could be to make landlords offer tenants long tenancies with limits on how much rent can rise.”