London Housing - a new opportunity to push for greater security

Delayed from August, this week saw the publication of the London Mayor's draft housing strategy, which is now open for consultation for three months.

Covering all housing policy from leasehold reform to tackling street homelessness, the strategy also has a specific section devoted to the private rented sector. With a quarter of London's children in the private rented sector, and millions of renters living in poverty, we all know how urgently action is needed.

We'll be coming back to parts of the strategy in the coming weeks, but here we just focus on the main headlines for renters.

The strategy builds on the Mayor's manifest commitment and previous public statements, and although the Mayor lacks the powers to fundamentally transform London's PRS, there are nonetheless some steps forward and potential to go further.

Most notable for not being mentioned before is a focus on increasing security through the development of a 'London Model' of tenancy reform.

The model will develop through discussion, but the draft strategy offers a number of potential directions, including changes to section 21 'no fault' evictions, increasing notice periods for tenants, and introducing a new landlord and tenant dispute resolution service.

At Generation Rent we strongly believe that section 21 must be scrapped and have set out proposals about how to do so here.

And while for some, the Mayor's proposal for a process to determine how greater security could work may seem unnecessarily cautious, when so much has already been proposed in this area, it does also present an opportunity.

We have a new government, with a commitment in the Housing White Paper to greater renter security. If this process can catalyse some genuine consensus between the Mayor and central government, it may be a renewed chance to see tenancy reform taken forward.

It's an area that Generation Rent will be pushing on, looking to once again make the case for action on an issue that is fundamental to renters. You can write to your MP about our proposals here.

Other PRS policy in the strategy was expected but welcome nonetheless. Support for local landlord licensing, and the establishment of a 'name and shame' rogue landlord database are both mechanisms to tackle the worst landlords, and a call for a larger, national landlord registration scheme is a necessary step towards professionalising the sector.

Continuing to call for the implementation of the letting fees ban is also key at a point when we still don't have a legislative timetable in parliament, and there are concerns about the ban being delayed.

Support for a fees ban is part of the Mayor's overall approach to affordability, but the strategy also recognises the need to go further to tackle the long-term cost of rent in the sector, both through a review of housing support and by limiting rent rises.

What the former should mean, in practice, is calling on the government to end the freeze on Local Housing Allowance at the Autumn Budget. And while support for limits on rent rises are important, alongside the calls for more challenges to rent rises through the First-Tier Tribunal, these measures will not bring down rents that are already too high.

Supply of new London Living Rent homes (with rents based on a third of local wages) will provide some renters with lower housing costs, though caveats do remain.

It is concerning that the strategy still leaves room for intermediate rented products at 80% of market rent - all newly built, 'affordable' homes in the private rented sector should be at London Living Rent.

Secondly, although the strategy talks about London Living Rent providing greater security for renters, there do not appear to be any guarantees of this.

Rather than giving guidance about longer tenancies, and having 'expectations' of terms of at least three years, these products should be offered as ten-year ASTs with rolling break clauses, to ensure long-term security while still adhering to the stated purpose of becoming shared ownership within that period.

If a renter wanted to leave or buy the property before the end of the contract then that would still be possible, but tenants would then have much greater clarity about how long they can stay in a property, and exactly what it offers, which remains unclear, and an apparent lottery at this point.

Beyond new supply, through, the broader move though must be to tackle affordability in the wider private rented sector.

If we believe that building homes at rent levels well below what the market is setting is an important way to tackle the London housing crisis, let's extend that principle to the other 95% of London's renters who will continue to live in the existing PRS, and who just want an affordable, long-term place to call home.

Doing so would be cheaper and faster than a strategy relying only on supply, and the created housing benefit savings could be recycled into building more genuinely affordable homes.

The powers to do this don't yet exist at London level. But it's for that reason that we need a concerted voice from campaigners, housing professionals and politicians across the capital to change what is possible, and support London's renters across the city.

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