In year one, we will legislate for new renters’ rights to control costs, improve conditions and increase security.
But we know that our rights are worthless when we can’t enforce them, in the workplace or in the housing market.
So I can announce today, the next Labour government will back new unions for renters, and fund them in every part of the country – so renters who feel helpless in the face of this housing crisis can organise and defend their rights.
Well-funded renters’ unions could do a huge amount to get tenants a better deal, on both an individual and collective level. Help getting deposits returned, forcing repairs to be made, and claiming back rent paid on an illegal property are just a few of the things that renters currently have rights on but little support to enforce.
We have renters’ unions already, of course – most notably our End Unfair Evictions partners ACORN and London Renters Union – but like us they’re doing a lot with pretty stretched resources, and £20m would make an enormous difference to the movement’s capacity.
Section 21 abolition and support for renters’ unions go hand-in-hand too. The greater stability created by the former will help the latter’s development because more renters will stick around in an area long enough to invest their time in local groups. And even with protection from eviction, your landlord can still refuse to fix things, and taking them on alone is tough. Solidarity from your neighbours can make all the difference.
We ultimately want a rental market with no bad operators at all, and renters’ unions could potentially achieve a lot more on this than cash-strapped councils can on their own.
Elsewhere in Healey’s speech was the liberal use of the words “rent” and “control” in close proximity, which felt surprising. Rent control’s carefully crafted mention in Jeremy Corbyn’s speech last year got a lot of scrutiny in comparison. The debate on what reform is needed is clearly moving on very quickly.
Not only that, but James Brokenshire, the Housing Secretary, chose only to attack the idea of renters’ unions, and steered clear of everything else:
“The only new idea in John Healey’s speech is to create yet another new union, which appears to be Labour’s solution to everything. Already hard-pressed renters will be asked to pay another £100 a year to this union on top of their rent.”
Brokenshire has already accepted – and made – the case for tenure reform, so it’s understandable that he would avoid drawing attention to his weaker proposals on that front. But it’s surprising that he, a Conservative, would apparently rather rely solely on the state to deliver justice than welcome the prospect of new civil society institutions. As for the subs, it’s true, unions ultimately have to support themselves through their membership, but there are already pretty good ways of ensuring members get the benefit while paying what they afford – one hour’s wage a month is one approach.
It is welcome that Labour has recognised both that renters need confidence to complain without the threat of eviction, and that they need help if complaints go unheeded. Next week, we look forward to hearing the Conservative Party’s plans to empower renters to drive dodgy landlords out of business.