Generation Rent: Ending unfair evictions and more

Generation Rent: Ending unfair evictions and more

The plight of London’s renters grows worse by the day. Accommodation in the capital devours 40 per cent of their income. Supply has fallen and rents have soared, hitting poorer households hardest. The number of Londoners in temporary accommodation matches the population of Blackburn. Cross-party local authority body London Councils has declared a “housing emergency” with private sector renting a prime cause. That emergency is dragging London down. What is to be done?

Generation Rent believes it has some answers. Launched in 2014, it speaks up for private renters and has clout with landlords, policymakers and politicians. It is a national, non-profit organisation, though London commands its close attention for two reasons: one, its private renting problems are especially acute; two, prominent London politicians have been calling for changes Generation Rent wants to see.

“I love everything about London except the renting,” says Ben Twomey, appointed chief executive a year ago. He seems unlikely to be alone. A Generation Rent study published earlier this year found London rents to be beyond the financial means of a vast range of vital workers, from sales assistants and cleaners to bus drivers and schoolteachers.

Other problems with the sector include insecurity of tenure and poor standards, forming an often grim picture of Londoners having little choice but to pay through the nose for poor housing they could be made to leave at any time.

Last year, City Hall analysis of English Housing Survey data found that private landlords in the capital had been receiving £500 million a year in housing benefit from around 180,000 dwellings that didn’t meet basic, government-set standards for health and safety, facilities and and state of repair.

Some progress, though, is being made. Barely a week seems to pass without some further delay to or dilution of the government’s Renters Reform Bill, now in its final parliamentary stages. The latest cause for dismay among campaigners has been the insertion of a new clause from the government to hold back outlawing controversial Section 21 “no fault” evictions pending a review of the court system’s capacity to cope with complex cases.

Yet Twomey doesn’t seem too downcast. He says there remains “a strong chance that Section 21 will be ended in the next couple years”, if not under the current government then the next. The issue now for Generation Rent is “to make sure it is ended in a way that really improves the position of renters with proper protections”.

They are already looking ahead with hopes of making progress with one of their other big campaigns, the introduction of private sector rent regulation. Twomey’s colleague Conor O’Shea, who is closely engaged with renters’ issues in London, describes it as “the next big challenge in renting”.

With the May 2024 elections in mind, Generation Rent produced a renter’s manifesto for city regions, including London, seeking candidates’ support for half-a-dozen measures, including asking national government “for powers to regulate rents” in their areas.

Sadiq Khan’s administration is seen by Generation Rent as a “strong proponent” in this policy area, which O’Shea describes as key to “stopping people being driven out of their homes and their communities by increases in rent”.

The hope is that a near-future closer political alignment between national government and City Hall will make this more likely to happen in all of the country’s big cities, which is where reform is most needed.

But rent regulation – sometimes still called capping or control – has critics on many parts of the political spectrum, including some who look at its past use in London and New York and its recent introduction in other parts of Europe and see many perverse outcomes, with fewer homes available and those in greatest need the most likely to lose out.

“There’s many ways to skin this particular cat,” responds O’Shea, acknowledging examples in Europe where not everything has been done right. “It’s incumbent on us and on the administrations that might run these things that we do get it right,” he says.

That means “doing things in a very holistic way” and seeing rent regulation as “one string to a bow”. Another string, a crucial one, would be building more homes for social rent. O’Shea says private rent regulation has worked best elsewhere when underpinned by that priority. Vienna is the gold standard example.

Effective, long-term “third generation rent control” would involve an index-linked mechanism, which is not the same as a freeze or a cap. Ultimately, it would be about “sustainably stopping 10 and 11 per cent increases annually across the capital, which is frankly unacceptable,” O’Shea says.

Another big item on Generation Rent’s agenda, long ongoing, is driving sub-standard housing out of the market. A Decent Homes Standard forms part of the Renters’ Reform Bill, ideally equivalent to that which applies to social tenants, but Generation Rent wants to ensure that it will be properly effective.

At present, London’s boroughs have a variety of landlord licensing arrangements, whereby those that sign up fund Town Hall teams who inspect rental properties within their areas and use enforcement powers in varying ways against poor practice.

Generation Rent is pleased to have input into boroughs’ licensing scheme consultations, largely representing tenants’ perspectives, but Twomey regrets that they are “one of the only ways local authorities can have anything close to the resources they might want or need in order to address standards and safety issues in homes.”

A combination of an effective Decent Homes Standard and local authorities having the funds to employ the number of inspectors they need to do a comprehensive job would be the best solution. However, licensing schemes in London, which have surged in number lately, are welcomed by Generation Rent. “They drive up standards and compliance from landlords,” Twomey says, and are perhaps the best available option in current circumstances.

London’s housing troubles are so complex, wide and deep that it is hard to know where to start with writing about them, let alone ending them. Generation Rent, though, along with others, can point to recent successes as well as hoped-for ones to come.

For example, in his budget, the Chancellor uprated local housing allowance to cover the bottom 30 per cent of market rents following a calamitous four-year freeze. He also ended tax relief on the short-term letting of residential dwellings, the proliferation of which is an issue in the capital as well as Cornwall.

The slow-moving Renters Reform Bill also promises a national register of landlords, which Generation Rent has long favoured. Discrimination in the private rental sector, the size of tenants’ deposits and the alleviation of renters’ debt accrued during the pandemic are other top concerns.

Generation Rent is a small organisation of nine people, yet in just ten years it has become an influential voice for renters across the country and notably in London, where many of them need all the help they can get. Learn more about Generation Rent from its website.

This article is the fifth in a series of five published by On London in the run-up to the election for Mayor on 2 May. They are kindly supported by Trust For London, which provides  funding for each of the five projects covered. On London’s policy on supported content can be read here. Photo from Generation Rent.

Categories: Analysis

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *