[Ben Reeve Lewis has been stockpiling the socks this week ...]
Not content with simply having a freebie in the Cayman Islands this week, Frazzles has insisted on periodically sending me photos of herself on white sand beaches, lapped by turquoise surf, while I have been putting the heating on.
To get my own back I have been texting her photos of the growing pile of socks and pants by the side of the bed, a practice that drives her to distraction.
Merely in an attempt to upset her sang froid and remind her what she is coming home to.
A sad man
Where is a man to turn for comfort at a time like this?
The London Assembly report on whether or not the private rented sector in the capital is fit for purpose of course……Yes I’m that sad.
The long awaited document that I was party to has finally seen the light of day on Monday and I dedicate this week’s newsround solely to it.
The London Assembly Report
For a year now the London Assembly have been holding court over the vexed subject of London’s PRS, which has involved chairing 4 meetings with a panel of experts (I was invited to attend the one in December……I doubt they will ask me back after reading this) and written submissions from concerned parties.
The report is the result of those consultations and various rows between assembly members but the majority have the influence.
Dissenting voices from the right of the assembly are contained at the back of the report but interesting to note that they do agree with the overall thrust of it, albeit with disagreements on the fundamental cornerstones of the propositions. More on this later.
The report looks at such thorny issues as rent control, retaliatory eviction, landlord and agent licensing, property conditions and rogue landlords.
Rent stabilisation is the new rent control
The London Assembly report examines rent control but for some curious reason that I don’t quite understand they call it “Rent stabilisation”, presumably to get away from negative connotations.
They aren’t calling for outright rent capping in the old Rent Act style but hinting at systems common to the US, Sweden, France and Germany, whereby rents can only be raised in-line with inflation.
Although in paragraph 2.23 the report’s authors state “Both government and the Mayor are opposed to rent control, and from this perspective it is unlikely that new regulation to control rents will be implemented”.
There are 20 key recommendations in there but if the authors acknowledge that key elements such as rent control will not be adopted it surely begs the question, ‘What is the purpose of the report then?’ Hmmm. Now read on.
As a TRO rogue landlords are obviously of great interest to me. The report highlights the information we all knew from Shelter’s rigged FOI requests and comes up with 4 recommendations;
The four recommendations
1. That penalties for harassment and illegal eviction be increased.
2. A statutory obligation to respond to tenants complaints, enquiries, and requests for repairs.
3. That judges should be made to enforce maximum penalties.
4. A landlord register.
Personally I don’t think increasing fines is necessary although I am heartily in agreement with the judiciary levying larger penalties that are already there.
Responding to tenants complaints strikes me as curious and I think more trouble than it would be worth trying to pick up the statutory timescales that would apply. Imagine the counter arguments and confusion.
A landlord register? Well I have always been in favour of that because it would circumvent most of the other remedies but of course a landlord register and rent control are 2 concepts guaranteed to bring out a rash in the majority of landlords.
The common argument, nay, Mantra, being that landlords will get out of the game and the housing shortage would get worse but the report doesn’t accept that argument.
Ben begs to differ
When I was asked for my views in the trial by stress that was my 3 hour grilling with the assembly in December, I said that I simply did not believe this would happen. In fact I am specifically quoted in the reference note to paragraph 2.23. I still hold that view.
The idea being put forward in the report is that if landlords stopped being landlords then the properties they are currently letting out would be available to first time buyers who are currently forced to rent against their wishes, the properties themselves are not going to disappear.
Letting agents aren’t let of the hook here either. According to a written submission from ‘Housing for the 99%’, only 4% of landlords who responded to their survey said that they had increased rents because of mortgage costs and 1 in 5 of them had increased rent because the agent encouraged them to.
Unsurprisingly the report calls for the regulation of letting agents.
Appendix 1 contains the views of the nay-sayers in the conservative assembly group.
Interesting to note that they say “Members agree with much of what has been written in this report” although they go on to say that there are areas of disagreement, notably over rent control and a landlord’s register. No surprises there either then.
Rounding up, there are calls for legislation to stop retaliatory eviction, which gets my thumbs up and calls to strengthen tenant’s rights, which gets my thumbs down, which may surprise many readers.
To my mind there is adequate legal protection for tenants, but alongside pathetic penalties imposed by criminal courts. The fact is that cuts have so denuded councils of enforcement staff that there isn’t anyone left to stand up for tenants. That is the problem, not more laws.
Gallons in pint pots
For instance, I recently spoke to a planning enforcement officer mate in another London authority, whose job it is to jump on people converting properties without planning permission in order to jemmy in as many people as possible and he said his work is impossible because his team has 300 complaints to investigate, and his team comprises just him.
Which counters the claim in the ‘Conclusion’, para 4.6 that “Boroughs must use their existing legal powers to focus on ridding the sector of rogue operators”. Nice idea guys but increasingly impossible when staff are being interviewed for their own jobs.
So my overall view of the report?
I don’t think it tells people in the industry anything we didn’t know already. Even the Conservative members agree with the analysis of the problems and some of the proposed solutions.
The report’s reservations about real change in view of government and mayoral opposition doesn’t offer much encouragement either. I doubt Boris has been much troubled by it over his Lobster Thermidor and glass of Crystal.
I genuinely liked Len Duval, Tom Copley, Nicky Gavron and those others behind the report and really cheer them on, but I have doubts that it will move things along.
What it does do for me though, reading all these ideas in one place, is that I see that as much as anything else a complete change in belief about the fundamentals of renting needs to take place if real progress is going to be made.
While the landlord community are so vociferously against rent control and registration and the tenant community zealously promoting it as the only sop to their problems nothing will change. It’s just a Mexican stand-off.