Tenants need regulations, not accreditation, Boris

Boris Johnson is setting a ridiculously low bar for landlords and letting agents.

Boris Johnson is setting a ridiculously low bar for landlords and letting agents

Tenants won’t find much to cheer in the new London Rental Standard, a voluntary accreditation scheme launched by the Mayor of London. It’s a fudge made necessary by the Mayor of London’s opposition to any further regulation of the private rented sector, and it amounts to little more than a polite request for landlords and letting agents to, if they would be so kind, meet their existing legal obligations.

The Mayor has set-up a standard which sets a ridiculously low bar for landlords and letting agents who want accreditation, and creates an even more confusing, flawed and bureaucratic mess than if he had simply pushed for smarter regulations.

Just how low are the standards he has set? Well, you could still pay extortionate fees to an accredited letting agent and be charged another hefty fee for renewing your tenancy every six or twelve months. You could rent a cold, draughty home from an accredited landlord in which you’re prevented from putting posters on your walls or keeping a pet, and be landed with a huge rent hike at the end of your fixed term, or be kicked out for complaining.

In setting such a low bar, he is ignoring grave problems like the rising tide of evictions, which is feeding through into rising homelessness.

If the Mayor had set a higher standard, he would have struggled to get more landlords and letting agents to sign up. Which is the point – in a broken housing market, why wouldn’t a bad landlord try to get away with everything allowed by weak regulations? This standard could help good landlords to up their game, but useless and rogue landlords won’t bother.

The bar isn’t just low, it’s a broken mess.

In his manifesto the Mayor promised “a single badge to replace the current confusing plethora of quality marks for landlords issued by a bewildering range of accrediting organisations”. But unable to force them to merge into a single recognisable scheme, he has taken the novel step of accrediting the accreditation schemes against this standard. So we now have another new mark sitting alongside the bewildering plethora of existing quality marks.

The Mayor was also unable to persuade these schemes to feed back information on the nature of the complaints tenants make. This is a real missed opportunity to identify further problems that his standard could tackle. Little good data exists on tenants’ complaints, partly because they fear that landlords will evict them in retaliation for complaining.

It gets worse. The seven accredited accreditation schemes don’t keep a register of properties let out by accredited agents and landlords, and there is no central register. So you can’t pop the address of a flat you’re looking to rent into the Mayor’s web site to check if the landlord is accredited. If you can be bothered, you can pay £3 to the Land Registry to get the landlord’s address, then call up all seven schemes to check if the landlord has signed up to any of them.

There’s an irony here. The Mayor opposes “burdensome” regulations. But here we have no fewer than seven flawed schemes creating burdens for good landlords and letting agents, while bad ones will ignore it and get off scot free.

The Mayor and the GLA Conservatives oppose a landlord register on the grounds that it will “focus resources on targeting good landlords rather than dealing with rogue landlords”. But that is exactly what the Mayor is now doing, spending £600,000 to develop, administer and promote a scheme that only good landlords will sign up to.

The Mayor would get more for less if he backed a smarter set of regulations. The majority of the London Assembly back a package including a compulsory landlord register, longer tenancy agreements a mechanism to stabilise rent increases, higher penalties for landlords who breach regulations, and a Decent Homes fund to help landlords improve the deplorable conditions of too many private rented homes.

There are two good things to come out of this flop of a policy. First, the Mayor will finally be launching a marketing campaign to inform more tenants about their rights, something several Assembly Members including myself have been pressing for. Second, the Mayor now has a scheme set-up which could quite easily be turned into a compulsory register.

Darren Johnson is a Green Party member of the London Assembly

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