Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Credit: Flickr/Matt Brown
After years of seeing evidence of the horror stories my constituents have faced at the hands of private landlords, I recently presented a ten minute rule bill to parliament. Although the bill will not become law in the absence of government support, it is important that there is a draft available for campaigners and future governments to use as a template for reforming a deeply unjust system. Current legislation places a landlord’s right to make profit on an equal footing with a tenant’s right to decent, secure housing. These are not equal rights; the right to housing must take priority.
The private rented sector has been largely ignored by parliament since tenant protection was removed by the Housing Act 1988. Until recently the sector was quite small; in 2001, only 7 per cent of people rented privately. But by 2011, this had risen to 17 per cent, and by 2025 it will be 22 per cent of the population. In inner city areas such as the one I represent in north Islington, a third of people now live in private rented accommodation.
By far the most frequent issue raised by tenants is the difficulty in getting deposits returned at the end of tenancies. If a landlord or letting agency is legally challenged they frequently claim that it was in fact rent in advance or that it was being withheld to cover alleged damage.
As well as dealing with this issue, my bill also provides for the enforcement of all environmental standards. Crucially, this includes energy efficiency, because privately rented accommodation typically costs much more to heat as well as having much higher rents – roughly three to four times local authority rents for similar properties. In addition, the bill would protect tenants by compelling landlords to carry out repairs and preventing them from evicting complainants.
At present, if someone living in private rented accommodation complains to the local authority about poor standards, the lack of repair, the lack of insulation or the sheer refusal of the landlord to engage with the tenant, they may be rapidly evicted. They have no real redress in law to prevent that eviction, because the majority of private rented sector tenants are on assured shorthold tenancies lasting only six months. We need longer secure tenancies.
I have been inspired by Digs, a private tenants’ campaign group in Hackney and Islington, who made an excellent submission to the communities and local government committee inquiry into the private rented sector. I support their proposals for secure five-year tenancies, a requirement for landlords to provide a valid reason for ending a tenancy, a public register of all landlords paid for from the Land Registry, a requirement for decent homes standards to apply to all rented accommodation, not just council and housing association homes, and full vetting of private landlords before they are permitted to let homes, including criminal record and tax checks, and previous warning letters from councils.
I also support legislation to outlaw discrimination against benefit claimants, whereby many letting agencies refuse to allow anyone in receipt of a state benefit to apply for accommodation. Letting agencies are wholly unregulated. All those seeking to operate in the private rented sector should be registered and subject to basic regulation.
The key requirement, ultimately, is that we should return to rent regulation by a process of fair rents set by local rent tribunals. That would bring about a sense of fairness in the system, not the excessive profit-taking that characterises the sector now.
The current rent levels in all areas are high but in central London especially so. People on benefits are being forced out of their homes as the gap between the local housing allowance and rent is unbridgeable. It cannot be right that former council flats are being rented for three or four times the rent the local authority would charge.
The previous housing minister once told me that he thought rent regulation was a very bad idea because it would damage the property market and that was the fundamental driver of economic success in this country. But other countries manage to regulate the private rented sector. Germany has full regulation, with virtually permanent tenancies and a very good standard of accommodation. Even New York, which last time I looked was pretty much a free market capitalist economy in every other respect, has a degree of rent regulation.
We need to provide security, decent standards and reliable landlords for those who are unable to buy or to access local authority or housing association accommodation. Everyone needs security in their home, private sector tenants as much as anyone else.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright