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.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns