Act now to protect private renters, Hackney tells new minister

Longer tenancies, a national register of rogue landlords and transparent letting fees are among the simple steps the Government should take to protect the UK’s nine million private renters, according to hundreds of people backing a Hackney Council petition delivered to ministers today.

The authority’s ten-point plan, which calls on the new Government to reform outdated legislation regulating the sector, was handed to the new Minister for Housing and Planning, Gavin Barwell MP, this morning.

Research from Shelter (external link) shows that more than a third of privately-let properties don’t meet the Decent Homes standard, while rents in the capital have risen by 19% since 2011 (external link) – causing one in three private renters in London to fall into debt just to meet monthly housing costs. In Hackney, soaring rents mean a tenant would need to earn £51,000 a year just to afford the average one-bedroom flat.

The Council’s petition, backed by hundreds of residents, sets out how renters could be better protected from ever-rising rents, vague letting agency fees and a minority of unscrupulous landlords by reforming current legislation.

Cllr Philip Glanville, Deputy Mayor
Cutting red tape holding councils back from tackling abuse in the private rented sector must be top of the in-tray for the new Housing Minister – and he must act quickly to help protect tenants feeling the pinch of London’s housing crisis.

Too many families are facing homelessness because of unaffordable rents, being exploited by rogue landlords in squalid properties, or struggling to save for a mortgage deposit in the face of rip-off fees and charges.

While the only long-term solution is to build more homes, councils across the country want to see action now to cut costs for tenants, support good landlords and give local authorities to powers they need to clamp down on illegal activity.

Our simple ten-point plan is backed by our residents and sets out easy measures the Government should take now to help Britain’s nine million private renters.
Cllr Philip Glanville, Deputy Mayor

More than 32,000 households rent privately in Hackney, a figure that has doubled in ten years. Legislation regulating the sector currently consists of 50 Acts of Parliament and 70 pieces of delegated legislation.

The ten-point plan calls for a single Bill which includes:

  • Inflation-capped rents – to give greater security for tenants and continuity of income for landlords
  • Longer tenancies – offered for years, not months, to give more stability for families with children
  • A published list of convicted landlords and lettings agents – to enable renters to check those offering a property are fit to do so
  • Fast-tracked licensing schemes – to cut red tape for councils regulating hotspots to ensure high standards of accommodation and service
  • A national quality kitemark – to make it easy for tenants to identify good-quality accommodation
  • Direct housing benefit payments – to incentivise accredited landlords to offer longer tenancies and stable rents
  • A public register of landlords and properties – helping tenants to find out directly who they pay rent to and enabling councils to provide support to landlords who need it
  • A requirement for letting agents to protect paid rent and fees – to ensure tenants get their money back if a lettings agent goes into administration or misappropriates funds
  • Costs transparency – with mandatory rules for landlords to publish related costs of a property, such as utility bills, and for lettings agents to explain alltheir fees
  • Improved safety – such as the mandatory installation of fire and carbon monoxide detectors and annual electrical tests

The petition follows an investigation by the Council’s Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission, which was presented with detailed evidence about conditions for private renters by local campaign group Digs.

Ministers agreed to partially implement some changes earlier this year – including action on rogue landlords, retaliatory evictions and safety measures – but the Council has continued to push for more action.

The Council has also called for the Government to lift the arbitrary cap on borrowing which restricts local authorities’ ability to develop new homes – which could unleash a new generation of social house-building across the UK.