The week started with Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn attacking conditions in the private rented sector and accused the government of being ‘in the pockets of property speculators and rogue landlords’.
This will come as news to many in the PRS, given the almost constant drip of new legislation from the government, placing new burdens on landlords, and tightening of the financial screws. The Labour leader attacked squalid conditions in the sector, conveniently ignoring the fact that local – often Labour – councils hold the enforcement tools, when it comes to tackling the criminal operators.
Giving evidence at the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee enquiry into the PRS on Monday, Labour Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales clearly hadn’t read the script. Defending his council’s borough-wide licensing scheme, he stated licensing was ineffective without enforcement. Of course, the vast majority of Newham’s prosecutions are for simply not having a licence, and not for unsafe or unsanitary housing, doing little to improve hosing conditions.
Likewise, Salford Council published a report into the PRS in its area. A less than extensive sample of 29 tenants was used to paint a grim picture of conditions, and extrapolated to claim some 2,000 properties were unfit. However, Salford was one of the first councils to adopt discretionary licensing. If licensing is so great, why are housing conditions in Salford’s private rented sector so bad? And why have the council prosecuted just 93 landlords over the lifetime of its licensing regime?
After the early fireworks, the rest of the week at Westminster was unusually quiet, as far as the private rented sector goes. Questions to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy left the sector untouched, despite being responsible for the minimum energy efficiency standards due to kick in in April.
Similarly, Prime Minister’s Questions left the sector largely unscathed – perhaps because both the PM and Labour leader were absent, David Lidington and Emily Thornberry stepping in. Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, Steve Double, did fire a warning shot across the bows of holiday lets, suggesting that owners were registering properties as holiday homes to take advantage of small business rate relief, instead of paying council tax. With the growth of Airbnb-type short-term lets removing many properties from the residential rental market, might these be next in the Chancellor’s sights?
At the end of the week, it was revealed the government was facing a double challenge to its right to rent checks. The RLA is supporting two challenges to these ineffective burdens. Our research shows landlords are becoming risk averse, in the face of possible prosecution, and want to see easily identifiable documentation – typically a UK passport – meaning many legitimate prospective tenants are finding it more difficult to secure a home in the PRS. We are supporting a judicial review brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, and a separate legal challenge on behalf of a tenant.