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Politicians will feel the fury of Britain’s renters

Alex Hilton

The rapid rise of Britain’s private rental sector seems to have flummoxed policymakers. Over a decade the number of people living in private rented accommodation has doubled to over 9 million, outstripping social tenancy to become the second largest form of tenure behind home ownership.

Despite this, private renting is poorly regulated and in many cases fails to meet the most basic needs of tenants. A flurry of research is painting a rapidly deteriorating picture of what it is like to live in private rented housing. A recent survey by the National Union of Students showed that two fifths of students have landlords who are happy for them to live with vermin.

Shelter and Crisis recently published a report highlighting the hideous conditions of people placed in private renting by councils due to homelessness. This reflected what the Nationwide Foundation found when they commissioned research into the plight of the most vulnerable private renters, which was the basis of their decision to fund our organisation, Generation Rent.
All of this is borne out by our recent ComRes poll which showed that costs as well as conditions are dragging people down. It showed that rents are now so high that a third of Britain’s 9 million private tenants are cutting back on food to pay their rents and two fifths are cutting back on heating. Far from renting being attractive, our poll showed that only 25 per cent of people do so by choice. Most people would prefer to buy if only they could get on the housing ladder and some would rather be in social housing.

We’re at a stage now where conditions are becoming Dickensian in nature and exploitation by landlords and letting agents is the norm. Opening a commercial kennel is more onerous than housing humans and still the landlord lobby campaigns for further deregulation.

We know where this ends, because Britain has had a large, unregulated private rental market before. It led to the rise of slum landlords like Peter Rachman (pictured below) , the intimidation and sometimes brutalisation of tenants, children and families living in absolute squalor, and ultimately the rise of renter movements, fighting back, sometimes through the use of rent strikes. peter rachman 2375939b 300x187 Politicians will feel the fury of Britains renters

This is where Britain is heading, blindly abandoning a generation to misery and exploitation. We need the government to act now if this is not to be a reality. We don’t want to kill the private rented sector, we want a sustainable sector where people are treated decently and have the security to raise their families in peace and dignity – and yes, where landlords receive a fair return on their investment.

This can be delivered simply and cheaply with a national register of landlords and the licensing of letting agents to deter the crooks, minimum standards so that landlords can’t cut corners and profiteer from tenants and extended security of tenure to provide stability. We also want a commitment to increase radically the number of affordable homes built each year.

It is perverse that a large chunk of the £24 billion Housing Benefit bill goes to private landlords, with no checks on what the government is getting for this money, yet at the same time a measly £1bn is spent on building affordable homes, when building more would cut the Housing Benefit spend.

“Perverse” characterises much of the political approach to the private rented sector. And politicians are wrong if they think 9 million renters will accept this meekly at the election next year.

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  • Pacificweather

    “two fifths of students have landlords who are happy for them to live with vermin”

    It’s hard enough to get people to house share with. If landlords excluded vermin how would decent students pay the rent.

    Landlords on average earn 4.7% interest on their investment. Less if they have a mortgage. Social landlords now don’t get grant and so have to earn about 4%. Therefore, the scope for rent reduction is not great.

    The nine million renters are the least likely to vote and only 52% of votes cast have an effect on the election results so you would be lucky to get 2.5 million effective votes. Those votes will be spread over 650 constituencies, will be for no single party and so they will have no effect on the outcome of the election. It was fine sounding rhetoric but not the basis for political action.

  • http://www.rentalraters.com Rental Raters

    A key issue here is the fact that so many tenants feel (with some justification) that the system is stacked against them. It is entirely normal for a landlord to credit and reference check a prospective tenant in addition to asking for a hefty deposit – all of which is needed for the landlord’s protection, I realise, but what about tenants? How does a prospective tenant check out a landlord? At the moment there are very few resources available to those of us who rent our home. How does a tenant know whether the landlord has fulfilled his/her duty of care to their previous tenants? How do we find out if they have evicted a tenant for requesting for repairs to be made on the property? Or if they use bullying or threatening behaviour? At the moment, we simply don’t!

    There needs to be more transparency in the rental market, with more information available to tenants so they can make an informed choice when choosing a rental property. It won’t fix everything – not by a long way. But in a free market, it seems the very least that can be done for tenants.

  • disqus_OGm7JtG0wT

    Good article but then this – “This can be delivered simply and cheaply with a national register of
    landlords and the licensing of letting agents to deter the crooks,
    minimum standards so that landlords can’t cut corners and profiteer from
    tenants and extended security of tenure to provide stability. We also
    want a commitment to increase radically the number of affordable homes
    built each year.”

    The problem is structural and you are focusing on the bad effects of renting not that housing should be a common good and distributing housing as a commodity is insane.

    A few regulations will no doubt be forthcoming. They won;t do a damn thing, except make the Liberals feel better.

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  • Pacificweather

    Your letting agent can supply this information. I you feel it isn’t truthful or you have concerns select another letting agent. Above all, read the contract. That will tell you a great deal about the letting agent and the landlord. If you are not happy with the contract ask for changes.


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