Labour offers a fairer deal to those renting their homes privately

To Let signLabour’s new proposals to support the nine million people who rent their homes from private landlords would make a real difference in Blackheath and Westcombe Park – where the number of private renters has increased by 50% in the last decade.

With home ownership increasingly out of reach, more and more people now call the private rented sector home and the Tory-led coalition is doing nothing to help make the sector safer, fairer and more affordable.

Labour’s plans, unveiled by Ed Miliband earlier this month, include three-year tenancies (with a six-month probation period), the banning of ‘letting fees’ for tenants, and a cap on rent increases.

The reaction of Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps – who mocked Labour’s plans as “Venezuelan-style rent controls” – show just how out of touch the Conservatives have become. The Tories have caused a housing crisis in London since 2010:  homebuilding is at its lowest level since 1924, London rents are rising at 10% a year, Home ownership levels are falling and the average age of a first-time buyer is, shockingly, 38. More than 55,000 Londoners have been hit by the “Bedroom Tax” and face being forced out of their homes, and Boris Johnson is missing his own targets for building new affordable homes. While Greenwich’s Labour council is doing all it can to put pressure on private developers, this is hampered by cuts in grants for affordable housing: since the coalition started the number of affordable new homes built in Greenwich has plummetted from 1,340 in 2010-11 to 490 in 2011-12 and just 270 in 2012-13.

Here in Blackheath Westcombe ward these London-wide problems are magnified by above-average property prices, high rents, high demand and not enough affordable homes. Blackheath and Westcombe Park are popular places to live and if market forces were unchecked, only the very rich could afford to live here, as this blog explained last year. Many people choose to rent privately, but many others are forced into it because they simply cannot afford to buy and do not qualify for social housing. To call a fairer deal for these tenants “Venezuelan style rent controls” is, to borrow an old Boris Johnson joke, completely Caracas.Delme Crescent

Increasingly, private rented accommodation is ex-local authority flats being let out by leaseholders, not just over-the-shop homes or flat conversions. More and more often I hear about problems when absentee leaseholders, who charge their tenants much higher rents than the council does, fail to carry out repairs and next-door council tenants and leaseholder suffer as well as their own tenants. When I first became a councillor in 1998 housing estates in Blackheath and Westcombe Park had two types of people living there: council tenants and right-to-buy leaseholders. Nowadays it’s three types: those renting privately are a fast-growing third group, living in homes that were built as affordable but which are now let out at unaffordable rents.

Most streets in Blackheath Westcombe ward contain a mixture of three tenures: owner-occupiers, council tenants, and a fast-growing group of private renters

Most streets in Blackheath Westcombe ward contain a mixture of three tenures: owner-occupiers, council tenants, and a fast-growing group of private renters

The latest reliable figures, from the 2011 census, show that since 2001 the number of people renting their homes privately in Blackheath Westcombe ward has jumped from 16.8% to 24.5% – up from one in six households to one in four (Greenwich-wide, the increase was even steeper: from 11.5% to 21%, about 20,000 households in total).

This increase in private renting was offset by a fall in people renting their homes from the council or a housing association (thanks largely to the Right to Buy) from 28.8% in 2001 to 22.3% in 2011. But home ownership in Blackheath Westcombe ward has fallen overall. For probably the first time ever, fewer than half the residents of Blackheath Westcombe ward (49.9% to be precise) now live in homes that they own. Although the coalition has increased the discounts available for council tenants who want to buy their homes (to a maximum of £100,000) in practice many of these homes are then sold on to buy-to-let investors. Generation Rent is here to stay.

IMG-20140321-00534So just as many people in Blackheath Westcombe now rent their homes from a private landlord as from a social one – and many face problems with rising rents, disrepair problems, and little security (most assured shorthold tenancies can be terminated at two months’ notice, not six).

 As the Housing expert Jules Birch has written recently, a new Rachmanism is at work, but responsible landlords have nothing to fear from the necessary reforms that Labour has proposed as they’ll face less turnover of tenants, more rent stability and less ripping-off by letting agents. And they’ll create more stable communities, too.

Locally, Greenwich’s Labour council has invested £900,000 this year to step up inspection of privately-rented homes to ensure that they are safe and properly-maintained. Let’s hope that before long there is  a Labour government  as well to give “generation rent” the protection it needs.

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4 Responses to Labour offers a fairer deal to those renting their homes privately

  1. Alex Can we also link this with a commitment for stringer enforcement on rogue absent landlords. I’m a strong supporter of fair rent controls and for beefing up the landlords responsibilities on repair and maintenance Cheers Paul

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Alex Grant says:

      I agree fully, and the council is clamping down on unauthorised subletting of council homes as you may know.

  2. Pingback: After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  3. sallamatu Jalloh says:

    Well down for the good work in blackheath and Westcome park. Especially hoping private tanate to get good dell from landlord.
    Sally

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