Renter’s reform must also tackle affordability

Renter’s reform must also tackle affordability

The campaign to deliver greater protection and improved standards for Bristol renters took a major step forward yesterday (16 June 2022) with the release of the Government’s long awaited ‘Fairer Private Rented Sector’ White Paper. 

Friday 17 June 2022

In responding to the publication, both Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees and Cabinet lead for Housing, Cllr Tom Renhard, have joined local campaigners in welcoming the proposals but warn that more is needed to be done to secure protections for renters and tackle out of control rent prices.

The paper published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities sets out a 12-point plan which addresses some of the areas of concern raised by campaigners. 

Areas for action addressed are in proposing to end no fault evictions, introducing open ended tenancies, developing a national landlord register, taking steps to prevent illegal evictions, improve access to justice for tenants and introducing measures to prevent discrimination.

In January the council passed a motion brought by Councillor Renhard to prevent discrimination by eliminating the “No DSS” policy adopted by several agents and landlords. This has led a commitment to create a local action plan to change discriminatory behaviour and have introduced an anti-discrimination to the licence conditions of all private rental sector properties licenced by the council. 

A commission is being launched made up of sector experts, tenants, landlords and academics to investigate making Bristol an affordable rent living city. This commission aims to investigate the issues, hear testimony from other places and individuals with lived experience; and to make recommendations on introducing a ‘Living Rent’ that has the potential to work in Bristol.

One area of major concern not addressed by the paper is the affordability of rental accommodation. Bristol City Council joined with the Bristol Fair Renting Campaign and community union ACORN in March 2022 to host an event that sought the views of residents on how to tackle the renting crisis. The prospect of introducing rent controls featured heavily during this event with many participants viewing them necessary to curb rocketing rent prices. 

A third of residents in Bristol are private renters with the average rent for a three-bedroom property standing at £1,343 a month (as of September 2021). Rents in Bristol have increased by 52 per cent over a decade whist wages have only grown by 24 per cent during the same period and the Resolution foundation reporting real wages could drop by 4 per cent by the end of this year.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: “This is a victory for those who have campaigned tirelessly for a fairer rental system and greater protections for renters. It’s a hard-fought victory and one that we must ensure we press home and continue to put pressure on the Government to deliver on their promises. There remain hurdles that these proposals must tackle, not least passing through an establishment filled with landowners without being watered down, but collectively, with the right amount of pressure applied, we can help see these reforms through into law.

“Whilst the proposals put forward provide greater protections and flexibility for renters, they do very little to improve access to housing for the thousands of low and middle-income households struggling to survive in the private rental market. The housing crisis we face is a multi-faceted challenge which is fuelled by a crippling lack of social and affordable housing. By choosing to ignore the need for controls to manage the affordability of the sector, the government continue to exclude households from a source of vital housing and adds pressure to already creaking council and local housing association services. Until we address the issue of affordability, we will remain some way short of overcoming this crisis.”

Councillor Tom Renhard, Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery and Homes, said: “It’s been a long journey, but we’re finally seeing some hope for the demolition of the Thatcherite reforms of the 80’s that saw the creation and maintenance of a broken private rental system. Those in private rented accommodation have lived for too long without adequate protections and very limited options to guarantee decent living standards. I welcome the direction the government appear to be going in and will continue to work with local campaigners to push for these promises to be fulfilled.

“The twelve proposals set out will have positive impacts on renters in Bristol and will also ensure clarity for landlords. Our campaign for a fair rental sector has always acknowledged that most landlords provide decent homes and aim to support their tenants. The system has been open to abuse however by those who seek to put profit before people. These proposed reforms will help, in some way, to address this situation. In particular, I am happy to see new powers being proposed for councils to crack down on criminal landlords and expand on our work that’s seen a number of individuals brought to court in recent years for a range of offences.

“With an ever-increasing number of people renting in the city, the continuing threat of no-fault evictions and variable accommodation standards seen across the city, these proposed reforms couldn’t come any sooner. Their passage through Parliament must however be accompanied work to address affordability if we’re ever to break the back of the housing crisis that’s showing no signs of going away. This is a particular issue in Bristol with the city being a popular place for people to live but one of the least affordable in the UK. With over 134,000 rental properties, the majority beyond the means of thousands of households in the city, it’s vital we work towards taking action to control rent prices and ensure access to housing for all in the city. We will be keeping the discussion on addressing affordability and controlling rents on the table, urging government to do the same if it is serious about taking a holistic approach to the needs of renters.

“We will continue to do what we can and build on the work we’ve delivered locally to improve conditions for renters, ensure people’s rights are enforced and investigate how we can curb rent prices.”

Clare Meynell, from the Bristol Fair Renting Campaign said: “The Bristol Fair Renting Campaign has been calling for meaningful improvements to help people who rent on the private rental market ever since we began our campaign in 2020. 
“Throughout that time, we’ve seen the same problems time and again: people putting up with terrible conditions, not being able to get repairs done; being threatened with eviction from their landlords if they do complain; of not being able to find somewhere to live at all as they’re discriminated against; and being priced out of our city by unaffordable high rents. 
“The Renters Reform Bill proposals would go some way to tackling these problems, but only if the government really delivers on them. 
“It’s disappointing that there’s nothing that will help bring down the cost of already unaffordable rents, and we’ll continue to keep up our campaigning in Bristol calling on politicians locally and nationally to find a way to make this happen. In the meantime, we all need to keep the pressure on to make sure the Renters Reform Bill really delivers on the promises it’s making for renters.”
Aside from the Renters Summit in March, the city has taken action on a number of occasions to improve conditions and strengthen protections for renters.”

Bristol currently has over 16,000 people on the council’s housing register waiting for social housing. Of these there are over 1000 people in temporary accommodation with many more on homeless or on the edge of homelessness.

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