• Josie Channer

Housing: A Fair Rent

Updated: Aug 9, 2018

After my article calling for action to be taken on the state of private rented accommodation and the effects of the government’s housing reform on London, has Ken Livingstone now come up with the answer to London’s emerging housing crisis with his Fair Rent and London-wide letting agency policies?

Investigations have uncovered some of the challenges that private renters in London face. Shelter reported that 40% of private rented accommodation does not meet the ‘decent homes’ standard. I’ve been looking at the social impact of the housing benefit cap on inner and outer London boroughs and found that overall only 36% of London will be affordable to low income Londoners by 2016. With no social housing building programme to meet London’s growing population the implication can only lead to a growing private rented sector. In response to this Ken has two main safeguards that he feels will protect Londoners.

After the success of the London Living Wage, Ken has launched a campaign for the London Living Rent. There’s no doubt that the current rent levels in London are already extortionate. A Shelter report found that in more than 50% of the London boroughs median rents for 2-bed accommodation are more than 50% of median incomes. Low income families in receipt of Housing Benefit may be forced out of the capital as a result of the benefit cap. Not forgetting those low and middle income Londoners that don’t qualify for any assistance, but have had to suffer spiralling rents. Ken says no Londoner should pay more than one third of their income on rent. So whether it’s for yourself, a family member or a friend living in private rented accommodation – the Fair Rent campaign is a policy that every Londoner can get behind.

The London

Josie Channer out campaining

wide-Letting agency aims to put good landlords in touch with tenants. As Chair of the committee charged with scrutinising Barking & Dagenham Council’s housing issues I’ve listened to the experiences of tenants dealing with agents and landlords over deposits, homes in disrepair and eviction. I also listened to landlords and there are many good landlords out there, but it’s the few bad ones that cause so much distress to some of the most vulnerable.

One couple’s story with a young child stood out to me. They work and receive some benefit to be able to make ends meet. The property was not decent when they moved in – due to a gas leak, they had to shut off the gas supply and they therefore had no gas. They also had no lighting. Although the couple reported the matter to the council, who came and investigated, the landlady did not carry out the repair in the property. Out of desperation, the couple withheld the rent to compel the landlord to fix the house. They were then served with a notice of eviction and had to leave the property.

Their experience illustrates why this is such an urgent issue. In this particular example the council did try to use its limited powers to force the landlord to make repairs, but that process can take months, often leaving the family in dire living conditions. A London-wide letting agency will not be enough to address this problem. This case highlights why Local Authorities need greater enforcement powers to deal with rogue landlords.

However, there are some issues that a London-wide lettings agency would address. Shelter found families with children now comprise at least 30% of private renters in London; I am concerned about the level of movement in our boroughs and the impacts on our schools. A Barking & Dagenham survey showed an increasing number of short-term 6 month tenancies, and 61% who were unsure about whether they will renew their tenancies. As a school governor I was alarmed to hear my local primary Head Teacher describe an average movement of 40 students a month — you can imagine the disruption to classrooms with this level of movement in a school. With Ken I’m campaigning for a London-wide letting agency that will promote longer tenancies helping to bring back some stability.

Although Ken’s Fair Rent and a London-wide letting agency would make a significant difference, I believe we need to take it one step further by calling for the regulation of private rented accommodation. Establishing mandatory licensing of private landlords in targeted areas of a borough would help Local Authorities and deter rogue landlords. I also think that a Private Tenants’ Forum should be standard in every borough to provide an opportunity where tenants could be heard. Ultimately what is needed is social housing programme in the capital and we won’t get that until we get a Labour Mayor that will put pressure on the Government to provide resources to increase affordable homes in the capital.

To read published article click here