There is one year until the 2015 General Election and housing will be a central issue. We are deep in a housing crisis and radical action will be needed, whoever is in government once the votes are counted.
Since 2001, the number of people privately renting in England has doubled to over 9 million, meaning that it has overtaken social housing as the second largest tenure, with projections suggesting it will grow by millions more people again in the coming decades. This growth has seen a wider section of British society become long-term members of ‘generation rent’, including older professionals, pensioners, and families.
Private Landlords currently fail far too many of their tenants. Across the country, rents are an increasing part of a person’s outgoings, leaving less money for other things in their life. The lack of flexibility caused by soaring rents has huge effects on people’s quality of life, trapping them in perpetual renting, unable to access social housing and unable to afford a mortgage deposit. It also hits the wider economy as private landlords hoard huge amounts of money, while other sectors see reduced consumer spending. For the most disadvantaged, the choice becomes one of eating, heating, or paying the rent.
The private rented sector is also characterised by insecure, short-term tenancies that mean lives can be disrupted with very little notice, forcing people to become transient. Most rental contracts are secure for only 6 months or a year, not enough time for a family to plan for their future or for an individual to get involved in the community in which they live. Outside of these short-term contracts, renters can be evicted with only two months’ notice, meaning millions of peoples’ lives can change on the whim of their landlord. If a tenant cannot afford a rent rise they may need to move, and they may face sudden eviction if they complain about mistreatment or poor conditions. The itinerant renter, having to move further and further away from where they want to live and work, is characteristic of 2014.
Given the growth and size of private renting, private landlords and letting agents are astonishingly unregulated. Government has no real idea of how many private landlords or agents there are, let alone what they are doing. The stories of unresponsive landlords, or agents charging rip-off fees, are now so numerous as to be considered normal to tenants, whose expectations of the conditions in which they will live and the value they will get for their money has plummeted. Anyone can be a landlord or agent – the laws are weak and enforcement of those laws more so. Given this is an industry providing people’s homes – the most basic form of human security - this has to change.
Property conditions for private renters are also worse than other forms of tenure, and mechanisms to make improvements are under-funded and difficult to make progress with. 35% of private rented homes fail the government’s own ‘decent homes’ standard, while environmental health teams invariably have too few staff to oversee enforcement of even these low standards.
Despite this poor picture for private renters, there are real and easily implementable changes that would vastly improve the material experience of millions of people. Generation Rent has proposed some policy solutions that can make life for renters better. Many people and organisations have ideas to improve private renting, so this document is wide and varied, and reflects the diversity of those ideas.
Generation Rent would like to hear your views on the different proposals set out in this document and your suggestions for other solutions. Please email [email protected] by Friday 6 June 2014 with your views on the proposals set out below and other relevant ideas. We will collate the best of those ideas to form a renters’ manifesto for the 2015 General Election.