The independent London newspaper

Generation Rent need a break from the cruel housing market

13 July, 2018

Green councillor Sian Berry 

THE individual’s basic human right to maintain a roof over one’s head is far too much at the mercy of predatory landlords.

This is what lies behind the concerted efforts of the Green councillor Sian Berry and Labour’s Tom Copley – both London Assembly members – to abolish “Section 21” of the housing laws that empower landlords with the right to evict tenants with just two months’ notice.

Far greater protection for tenants was given in the 1970s under the various pieces of housing legislation introduced mainly by Labour.

In those years rent controls had become more commonplace – rolled into operation after scandals of exploitative and rapacious landlords had made the headlines in the late 1950s and 1960s.

But then came the years of de-regulation in the property world – all part of the transformation of the economy under Mrs Thatcher – until many of the rights of tenants had been stripped away.

Little of this essentially mattered as long as the economy kept on expanding and families were able to buy their own homes but since the financial crash of 2008 the property boom has burst, and more and more young people have been forced into the rental market.

But recent governments, as usual, have been too fearful of rebalancing the landlord-tenant relationship. They have tried to tinker constructively at the edges – setting out to curb private letting fees and offering longer secure tenancies – but they have shied away from real controls.

Until they do – the housing crisis will worsen, and the future of Generation Rent will remain bleak.

There is, of course, the danger that some landlords, faced with too many restrictions and the fear of falling returns, will pull out of the property market.

But a properly controlled private rental market works well in Germany and other parts of Europe – and there is no reason why it shouldn’t in Britain.

There is a growing mood for change as young people – especially in London – are caught in the grip of exorbitant rents, largely unprotected by loose regulations.

It will take a real understanding of market forces and a political will to harness them – and this government, bedevilled by the Brexit conundrum, isn’t equipped to do the job.

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