Rent control moves closer to home

Whether you’re for or against measures to control private sector rents, it’s going to be worth watching closely what happens to new legislation in Ireland.

After a long row between the Irish coalition partners, the government has finally agreed a package of measures designed to give ‘rent certainty’ to tenants until supply increases. The package includes:

  • For the next four years, landlords will only be allowed to increase their rents once every 24 months rather than 12 months as at present
  • Landlords will have to give 90 days notice of any increase (up from 28)
  • Landlords will have to provide evidence that any future increases are in line with the local market rate and inform tenants of their legal right to challenge them
  • Tenants will have stronger protection against unscrupulous landlords who falsely declare they need to sell the home or move in a family member: landlords will have to sign a statutory declaration and face fines if it is invalid
  • Landlords who house tenants on social security will get 100% mortgage tax relief against their rent (up from 75%).

Note that ‘rent certainty’ is not the same thing as rent control. What’s interesting about the package from this side of the Irish Sea is that it anticipates – and goes beyond – all of the points raised in the growing debate on rent regulation here. The Scottish Government is dipping its toe in the water with a Bill that will allow local rent control in rent pressure areas while Labour will call for new powers to freeze rents in London if Sadiq Khan wins next year’s mayoral election.

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Scotland goes its own way on private renting

Originally posted on September 2 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Rent control and increased security of tenure are back on the government agenda for the private rented sector for the first time in 30 years.

I am of course talking about the Scottish Government, which yesterday confirmed plans for a Private Tenancies Bill as part of its Programme for Scotland 2015/16. The Bill will ‘provide more predictable rents and protection for tenants against excessive rent increases, including the ability to introduce local rent controls for rent pressure areas’.

And it will introduce a Scottish Private Rented Tenancy to replace the current assured system and remove the ‘no-fault’ ground for repossession. That means the landlord will no longer be able to ask a tenant to leave just because the fixed term has ended but there will be ‘comprehensive and robust grounds for repossession that will allow landlords to regain possession in specified circumstances’.

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The sharp end

Originally posted on August 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing

Wales is setting an example on homelessness prevention but can it escape the UK-driven logic of austerity in housing?

The question is prompted by today’s Homelessness Monitor Wales 2015, the latest in a comprehensive series of assessments from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on progress (or otherwise) in the UK nations. This one arrives just at the point where Wales is using its relatively new legislative powers to take a different path to England on housing policy.

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Frustrated hopes

First posted on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing on July 6

What’s stopping shared ownership from fulfilling its potential as the fourth housing option?

Ever since it was launched, shared ownership has seemed to promise more than it delivers to people who can’t afford full ownership, want something better and more affordable than private renting and want something more or don’t qualify for social housing. Its part-rent, part-buy status and the fact that it requires less grant than social housing have ensured support from both Conservative and Labour governments and it’s become increasingly important to the finances of the providers that offer it. Yet somehow something is missing.

It’s a conundrum the government is trying to resolve through changes introduced in April and a review of longer term options out this summer. It would do well to take heed of a new report from Bristol, Kent and York universities and the Leverhulme Trust launched at an event at the House of Lords last week that I chaired.

From a wider policy perspective, shared ownership has huge potential. As Lord Best put it at the launch, we could create three to four times more home owners through shared ownership than through the Right to Buy.

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Rachman, rogues and renting

Scandals hit private renting. With an election in the offing, the Labour opposition pledges help for tenants. There are definite parallels between now and the 1960s.

Everyone (especially those who oppose the party’s current modest reform plans) thinks they knows what happened in the wake of Rachmanism but the truth is far more complicated and so are the lessons for the future.

My interest in the period was first caught by a 2012 Radio 4 documentary called The Real Rachman – the Lord of the Slums. I thought I knew about Rachmanism but the programme told a much more nuanced and mysterious story that I blogged about shortly afterwards.

That blog prompted an email from Professor David Nelken, whose 1983 book on the aftermath of Rachmanism has just been reissued. The Limits of the Legal Process is a classic study of the sociology of the law that should be required reading for anyone involved in the current debates about regulating renting (or indeed regulating anything). The book is subtitled ‘a study of landlords, law and crime’ and it tells the story of the response to Rachmanism, first by the politicians with legislation, then by landlords with evasion and then by local authorities and the courts with implementation and enforcement.

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Making the move

Forced out of area moves are on the increase and they are not just happening in London.

The Oxford Times reports this week on cases of people being offered homes as far away in Cardiff, Cheltenham and Birmingham. The council blames the cuts in housing benefit and the benefit cap that make it impossible to find affordable private rented accommodation but a local solicitor has accused it of dumping people outside the area.

Elysha Britnell, a 22 year old mother of two children, was told she would have to move out of her temporary accommodation in Oxford and accept a home in Birmingham. She says she has no family and friends outside Oxford and has never lived anywhere else and is appealing against the decision:

‘I’m Oxford born and bred. If this appeal fails I’ll be completely homeless. I have got nowhere else to go. Even if I go to Birmingham, I may as well be homeless, because I have nobody there.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing

Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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