London has a living wage, we also need a living rent

The Mayor has to start listening, and acting, to protect Londoners not property investors.

The Mayor has to start listening, and acting, to protect Londoners not property investors

This tweet from Camden about a landlord hiking the rent up 40 per cent on a three bad flat is bitterly familiar to many private tenants in high-pressure markets like London.

But a very modest form of rent control could prevent any increases above inflation, and would have saved the average private tenant household £2,796 in the two years since Boris Johnson was re-elected in 2012.

I’ve launched something called a ‘living rent calculator’ that you can use to see how this modest form of rent control could benefit you.

The living rent idea, which I’ve been pushing for a few years, is very modest. Like tenants on the continent, you could have a five year tenancy agreement that you can renew at the end if you want to stay there; landlords couldn’t turf you out unless they wanted to move in, or have sold the property.

While you’re there, the landlord could choose to increase your rent each year, but the increases would be capped at inflation, or the rise in local wages, or some other index. My calculator lets you compare how these would work.

For most tenants their rent is already too high, anyway. Alongside the calculator, my existing rent map shows how impossible it is to find an affordable rent on low or modest wages in the capital. Shelter’s research found that rents are unaffordable in more than half the country.

Social tenants are also stuck in a cycle of above-inflation rent increases every year, as part of a deal between the government and landlords. Benefits are supposed to take the strain, but for many tenants it’s a miserable prospect when wages are barely budging.

I don’t pretend the living rent package would solve these bigger problems. We need land value taxation to take out any profit from speculators and buy-to-let investors who are currently pushing up property prices. We need to make long-term empty homes a massive financial burden instead of a safety deposit box for rich investors. And we need to build the amount of social housing London actually needs, and refurbish existing homes instead of demolishing them.

But a living rent control could at least stop things getting much worse, and help those who have found a home to stay there. This is absolutely essential for parents with children in a local school, and the key to young Londoners being able to put down roots in their local community.

The Mayor turns a deaf ear to these ideas, and to the pleas of tenants who are being evicted for complaining about damp, forced out by huge rent hikes, paying rip-off agency fees, and living in airing cupboards or on sofas for want of a room in a flatshare they can afford.

Worse, he actively courts the investors who are driving up prices, and encourages the demolition of council homes to make way for luxury flats.

So long as he, and much of the media, refuses to countenance even very modest ideas like a living rent, younger Londoners are going to get ever more disillusioned with politics, as Holly Baxter’s article makes clear. The Mayor has to start listening, and acting to protect Londoners not property investors.

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.