17 January 2015

Discussion of housing tends to focus on affordable housing. However, the shortage there is likely to be with us for years and for many people renting in the private sector is the only way they will get a roof and in this post I am going to look at private renting again.

I looked at this in two earlier posts: Helping or hindering private tenants and Hidden housing need in Cornwall. Now Civitas, a thinktank that I see as right-of-centre, has published The future of private renting by Daniel Bentley in which sound ideas for the improvement of the private rented sector are explored.

There has been a significant change in housing in England: owner occupation has declined and the private rented sector has much increased. The English housing survey private sector showed that in 2012/13 the latter accounted for about 18 percent of households. In Cornwall there were 88 000 people in all types of private rented housing at the 2011 census.

The private rented sector is going to be a major housing supplier for many years. We should encourage and support the good landlords, a majority, and avoid any moves that might reduce the amount of good property to rent. There are three main areas for discussion.

I looked at the quality of some of the housing in the post Hidden housing need in Cornwall. The Libdem MP Sarah Teather has attempted in the Commons with her capital Tenancies (Reform) Bill to prevent retaliatory eviction, eviction after a tenant has complained about disrepair or asked for repairs; so far the bill has been stymied. Such eviction should be specifically barred.

Length of tenancies
Typical tenancies last from six months to two years and landlords can secure possession easily. This is not a satisfactory arrangement for families which need long term security and stability. Labour has proposed three year renewable tenancies as the default but Civitas has proposed bolder “indefinite tenancies” which I think are a more suitable approach for most tenants. Private renting would become a tenure of choice rather than, at present for many, a tenure of last resort.

Regulated rents
Many private renters need support from taxpayers through housing benefit to pay their rent; thus the state has an interest in rent levels. There is a difficulty here: would controls and regulation of rent reduce the supply of private rented accommodation by deterring landlords? Some Labour MPs argued not and Civitas has presented a reasoned case for some regulation of current stock but not new-build housing. The present unregulated rents demand an unsustainable subsidy from taxpayers to landlords and tenants. We should move, but move cautiously, so as not to reduce supply. The proposals from Labour and Civitas both offer a way forward but Civitas’s enable a necessary shift in the private rent culture.

On all three areas there are sensible proposals for reform from Libdem Sarah Teather, Labour, and Daniel Bentley and Civitas which will sustain the private rented sector and help tenants.