We need real action to ensure fair treatment for London’s private renters

Boris Johnson’s soft touch approach to regulation leaves London’s renters at the mercy of landlords.

Boris Johnson’s soft touch approach to regulation leaves London’s renters at the mercy of landlords

Six months ago Boris Johnson launched his flagship London Rental Standard. The idea behind it was to set minimum standards for landlords and letting agents.

The problem is that the scheme is useless as a means of delivering these standards and protecting tenants.

In practice, the London Rental Standard was yet another announcement of ‘voluntary’ measures, designed by landlords and letting agents, which they can ultimately decide not to sign up to anyway.

As a media announcement it worked well for the mayor, but given the scale of the problems facing London’s private rented sector, a system based on voluntary self-regulation is entirely inadequate for protecting tenants. 

But even on the mayor’s own terms the scheme is failing. He has lofty ambitions to have 100,000 London landlords voluntarily signed up by 2016 – roughly a third of all landlords in London.

So far he’s only managed to sign up 13,499 landlords according to the most recent City Hall figures.

In fact the number of landlords signed up has increased by just 2,892 since the 2012 mayoral election.

Over the same period conditions for the capital’s renters have dramatically deteriorated.

Since 2011 private sector rents have increased by 21 per cent and recent estimates found that 39 per cent of private rented sector tenants now live in poverty – a larger share than in either the social or owner-occupying tenures.

Housing organisation Shelter has also reported a 47 per cent increase in private sector tenant complaints in London since 2008 (to 18,700 a year), illustrating the demand for increased support for tenants.

Last week’s decision by Philip Davies MP and Christopher Chope MP to torpedo a bill to outlaw revenge evictions shows the contempt some politicians have towards increased rights for renters.

The bill would have been a small step, but it was an opportunity for parliament to signal a change of direction by outlawing revenge evictions and starting the long overdue process of empowering the millions of people who rent across the UK.

With four-in-ten private sector renters living in poverty, rents rising and complaints soaring, the mayor and government’s soft touch approach does little to help the majority of renters.

Without proper statutory protection, many renters are left at the mercy of their landlords.

Instead of toothless voluntary schemes like the London Rental Standard we need to see real action to ensure decent standards and fair treatment for a 21st century private rented sector.

Tenants need statutory protections. Outlawing revenge evictions would have been a start, but we need to go much further, including by introducing longer tenancies with predictable rent rises as an absolute minimum.

Whilst most landlords treat their tenants properly, cases like that of the New Era estate in Hackney, where residents face rents tripling overnight, make it clear that the current system of voluntary regulation just isn’t working.

Tom Copley is a Labour Londonwide Assembly member, and the London Assembly Labour Group Housing spokesperson. Follow him on Twitter

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