For too long, too many tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) have endured atrocious conditions and blatantly unfair treatment from their landlords.
While of course many private landlords uphold good standards and provide a perfectly fair service, I expect there isn’t a councillor in the country who hasn’t heard umpteen horror stories in casework from private sector tenants.
From disregard for basic health and safety through to the unaccepable use of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions to turf out tenants for no good reason, it’s been clear for many years that the sector needs reform.
These issues pose a major concern for London boroughs. The PRS is a crucial strand of the capital’s overall housing provision. When it works well, the sector offers great flexibility and high quality. With around two million Londoners living in private rented accommodation, a significant proportion of our residents are private tenants and the quality of housing and service they receive has big implications for the wider community.
We’re particularly keen to see greater housing security and stability for these tenants. Many of the residents who end up turning to their borough for housing support come from broken-down tenancies in the PRS. When things go wrong in the private rented sector, it’s often the local council left picking up the pieces and making new accommodation arrangements for those without a home.
London faces the highest homelessness rates in the country. There are currently 155,000 homeless Londoners – including 86,000 children – living in temporary accommodation arranged by their local borough. These figures are simply unsustainable and it’s crucial to look at what’s going wrong in the wider housing system that’s leading to such high homelessness rates.
We were therefore pleased to see the recent launch of the Government’s White Paper A Fairer Private Rented Sector, setting out a range of proposed reforms that are undoubtedly good news for PRS tenants.
Boroughs welcome the inclusion of a measure to extend the decent homes standard to the private rented sector, meaning landlords will have a legal duty to ensure their properties meet a regulatory standard for the first time. This is an important step towards improving conditions and bringing standards into line with the social rented sector.
The White Paper also includes a ban on those dreaded ‘no fault’ Section 21 evictions. These changes will prevent landlords from evicting tenants without reasonable circumstances and should provide tenants with additional powers to challenge poor practice and unjustified rent increases without the fear of eviction.
And boroughs were pleased to see a proposed introduction of a new single Ombudsman that all private landlords must join. This will support the removal of no-fault evictions by providing a single pathway for dispute resolution for both tenant and landlord, and covering all private landlords who rent out property in England.
These are all sensible, much-needed measures – but to make a meaningful difference they need to be properly enforced.
London boroughs have long called for stronger powers and more resources for our regulatory work in the PRS. It was good to see the White Paper acknowledge the key role played by local authorities, along with a promise of tougher enforcement powers and more support for councils cracking down on criminal landlords.
We’re keen to work with the Government on the detail of this. For changes in the law to actually succeed in helping tenants and boosting standards, councils must be adequately resourced. Local authorities will face several new burdens as a result of the reforms – and central government can’t expect cash-strapped councils to handle these without additional funding.
I’m optimistic about the direction of travel. The measures set out in the White Paper have the potential to secure far-reaching reforms and a dramatic leap in standards in the PRS. We hope ministers will now continue to work with councils alongside other partners in maintaining the momentum and delivering the changes so many of our residents are waiting for.
Cllr Darren Rodwell is London Councils’ executive member for regeneration, housing & planning