Increasingly unmanageable rent hikes in the private rented sector are seeing renewed calls from Sadiq Khan for the power to control costs in a sector now housing a third of Londoners. But concerns go beyond rent levels, according to a new report published today by think tank Centre for London.
Private renting is becoming the only long-term option for many low and middle-income families with no other tenure available to them, the report says. Yet almost one in five private rentals in London fail to meet basic housing standards, with more than half the city’s renters having landlords who fail to make essential repairs.
“London’s private rented sector is failing renters. Greater regulation is required to ensure that renters have decent, safe and secure homes to live in,” the report concludes. It calls for an expansion of landlord licensing across the city, and also warns that Whitehall rules governing licensing schemes are hampering councils’ efforts to tackle bad landlords.
The current “selective” licensing arrangement allows councils to set standards and conditions, both for rental properties and their landlords, before they can be operated. Licence fees fund inspections and enforcement as well as information-sharing, consultation and educational work with landlords and tenants alike.
The system been adopted in 17 London boroughs and the report highlights success stories in Newham, where more than half of residents live in the private rented sector, and Waltham Forest.
But schemes covering more than 20 per cent of a council area cannot be introduced without government permission, and must be renewed every five years, while the process of applying for or renewing a scheme is “expensive, inefficient and time-consuming” both for cash-strapped town halls and for Whitehall, the report finds.
“We believe that there is nothing to be gained by central government deciding on specific aspects of selective licensing schemes for local authorities around the country. Local authorities are best placed to design their licensing and enforcement practices, and they should be free to make decisions and tailor their schemes within a transparent set of guidelines,” it says.
The centre has welcomed the government’s new Renters (Reform) Bill, with its measures to outlaw “no fault” evictions and introduction of a national register of landlords, but argues that these new provisions should work in tandem with more powers at local level.
“Our research highlights the value of central government and councils working together to identify rogue landlords, and strengthening the enforcement capacity to deal with them,” said Jon Tabbush, report co-author and senior researcher at the centre. “With more and more Londoners having to enter the rental market to live in the city, making sure people can do so in safe and secure conditions is crucial for preserving London’s future.”
“Too many Londoners are living in unsafe and unhealthy privately rented homes,” added Khan’s housing deputy Tom Copley, responding to the report. “If we are to continue building a better London for everyone, it’s essential that we continue to stand up for and empower renters. We need the government to step up and work with us.”
More regulation is important but no “silver bullet” the report says. Rising house prices, increasingly hard-to-get mortgages, a boom in residents returning to London post-pandemic, the rise of short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb and an acute shortage of social housing are all contributing to demand for private renting becoming twice as high as it was at the turn of the century and tipping the sector into crisis,
“The underlying structural issues of London’s rental market cannot be entirely fixed by improving licensing and enforcement practices,” the report concludes. “Central to the problems of London’s rental market is the imbalance between supply and demand.”
Read the Centre for London report IN FULL. Photo from report by Kindel Media.
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