Tom Brake MP writes…It’s time to reform renting

Recently at my surgery I met a distressed young woman who came to see me with her mother. Repairs are outstanding on their rented property. The landlord is refusing to sort them out while at the same time putting pressure on them to leave their flat. She didn’t know where to go or what to do.

This is a familiar story and it is no exaggeration to say that we have a national emergency in housing. There are vast numbers of people living in fear and uncertainty and in 2016 that is simply unacceptable.

We clearly have a rental sector which is broken. Many people are spending over half their disposable income on rent and yet a third of homes fail to meet the Government’s decent homes standard, with over 60% of renters having experienced either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks, according to a recent survey commissioned by Shelter.

On top of that there are barriers which stop renters getting on with their lives and moving into the housing they want for them and their families. Soaring house prices mean that a two-bedroom house in London is now out of reach from more than 80% of people and high deposit requirements and lettings fees push many people into debt.

The rental system is simply not fit for purpose and needs radical reform. This week I presented to Parliament my Landlords and Tenants (Reform) Bill, based on the measures put forward by Caroline Pidgeon’s team, giving a fairer deal for private renters. These include scrapping lettings fees for tenants, mandatory registration of landlords and limiting the size of deposits.

As Liberal Democrats we need to step up our call for renting reform​. We need to shut down the Rachmans of this world and shift the power balance towards renters. There is no silver bullet that will solve London’s housing problems, because the fundamental challenge is a lack of supply, which takes time to fix. But there are things that can be done to make renting cheaper, safer and more secure and they must be done now.

* Tom Brake was the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington from 1997 to 2019.

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  • Yes – get in there Tom. It’s a major scandal that needs sorting.

  • Tony Greaves 29th Apr '16 - 11:17pm

    Good stuff. This is something the party needs to do a lot of thinking about. I suspect that the more thought there is, and the more evidence gathered, the more radical will be the proposals. But a start is a start.

  • Nigel Jones 30th Apr '16 - 9:56am

    Well done to highlight this problem. People are ripped off in various ways, like the deposit not being returned when leaving; they give spurious excuses such as the place not being spotlessly clean. Consumers organisation Which campaigned about this a few years ago, but it’s as bad as ever.
    This is also linked to maintenance and repair companies taking advantage with extra high charges for jobs done for landlords, such as plumbing. This is not fair distribution of wealth, since it creates a circle for the fortunate and powerful to rake it in and not necessarily do a good job.

  • David Evershed 30th Apr '16 - 12:04pm

    As Tom Brake says a fundamental issue is the shortage of properties to rent which limits competition between renters.

    We therefore need to take care that any measures introduced by government will help increase supply not reduce it by introducing measures which make it less attractive for reputable investors.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Apr '16 - 5:49pm

    There are serious problems with privately rented property. So the anser is to increase the number of privately rented properties. Hm.

    Tony Greaves

  • The only fundamental solution (and it won’t happen under this government) is to enable local authorities to borrow at historic low interest rates in order to build more properties of various kinds in the public sector. What was good enough under Harold Macmillan ought to be good enough under David William Donald Cameron.

    Full consideration should also be given to rent controls as under the 1965 Rent Act – the problems of which could be dealt with given increased public sector supply. Those of us long enough in the tooth can well remember Peter Rachman in the 1960’s.

    There’s also a whole field that needs to be investigated into the artificial inflation of house prices in London caused by dodgy foreign money and greedy private landlords.

    It would be interesting to know what impact there has been by the Steve Webb so called pension reforms.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Apr '16 - 6:37pm

    I have always recoiled from the negativity and vehemence in the tone of the comments of Lord Greaves on the site , far more than from his views , even when I disagree with him .

    Here the man gets to the nub of it , and in a tone I like ! Hmmmmmm……………!

    I have been through difficult times over the years financially , rented a lot .I know a great deal about this from first hand experience.
    The private rental sector , like provision of any service , including the public sector , contains much that is awful , and good as well.But whereas the silver lining in the use of private provision in other public services is that the government and the patient or pupil is often in the driving seat or at least in the car as a back seat driver , in renting , the tenant is a permanent passenger , fine if it is a limo , lousy if it is an old banger !

    We need to put power into the individual hands of people .You cannot do that when the property belongs to someone else !We need a radical policy to create a genuine opportunity for ownership for most , and social housing in which the tenant is involved at every level , encouraging participation , by making it incumbant on the social landlord to consult and involve the dweller in the property so they do not feel like that , but , rather , get the sense that the house is their home .

    Look to the social Liberal social landlord work of the era and in the area of David Alton and his colleagues in Liverpool in the early 1970s, before my time , for I was a toddler , but I know enough about it to know what it did .

  • Stevan Rose 30th Apr '16 - 8:46pm

    For balance there are bad tenants and good landlords. In many cases a rental property is a big chunk of a pension plan and rent defaults can cause significant hardship. You have to fix both sides together. This sounds very one sided. Licensing letting agents, with teeth, would protect both. Income from registrations and licenses should be ringfenced and used for enforcement, again to benefit all parties.

  • One of the regular common dodges of third party letting agents is to hang on to the tenant’s deposit (often several hundred pounds) on the pretext of minor damage or items left behind.

    One case I know of was of two very tiny marks on a wall where a picture had been hanging (with the landlord’s permission) and some surplus cutlery left in a knife draw as a kindness to the next tenant. Cost £ 550 refusal to pay back the deposit.

  • Robert Wootton 2nd May '16 - 11:13pm

    A change in the law is necessary to end this housing scandal. Make it illegal for landlords to charge rent for sub standard housing and also make it illegal for tenants to pay rent for substandard housing. Give tenants the legal right to to contract builders and other qualified professionals to bring the house up to an acceptable standard as defined by the local environmental health inspector that is employed by the local council; and to pay the rent that was due to the landlord to the contractors until the bill was paid.
    Of course this is a simplistic viewpoint and it will be more complicated to draw up appropriate legislation. However, it is necessary to equalise the legal powers between tenant and landlord. Does any other Liberal Democrat have any ideas of how to solve the problem? As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in personal responsibility but to be able to exercise that responsibility it is necessary to have the legal power and also the economic power to do so. Make it a LibDem manifesto commitment to give citizens this power.

  • Helen Dudden 8th May '16 - 8:27am

    In and around the City of Bath, we have now been overtaken by the need to house the growing student population. This still expands, as the social housing is less popular. Of course, we should add a casino more hotels, more second homes and a lot more holiday lets. I agree with the ideas in Cornwall, should homes be left emptywhile others have nothing. Weekend hen parties that can pay better than tenants.

    The Duchy of Cornwall wanted to build, there has been councillors, some of yours who have protested against the ideas of building.

    Unless, the situation becomes other than written articles, nothing changes.

    Every empty home should be considered and the reasons why questioned, one old school building has remained empty for over 20 years, the developer disagreed with the council on its use.

  • Neil Sandison 9th May '16 - 5:10pm

    Good start Tom .but we need to go a lot further .The conservatives treat renting as though it was some kind of second class form of tenure and not the personal choice you make based on your economic circumstances and the affordability of housing in your area . We need to promote flexible tenures best suited to the needs of the persons seeking a home be it rented ,shared ownership ,rent to buy or leasehold or home ownership .sending a clear signal to the housing market that flexibility of tenure should be welcomed in the housing market.

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