Today MPs are debating ways to ensure that tenants in private rented housing get a fairer deal. In my Brighton Pavilion constituency almost a third of households rent from private landlords and nationally as many as 9 million people now rent privately.
From my weekly surgeries and my regular MP case work I know that the growing numbers of people having to rent are deeply worried about rent levels, especially sudden rent increases when their short-term tenancies expire. Far too many also have to put up with damp, leaky homes.
Generation Rent spans all ages and all backgrounds. It includes the single mum from Hollingdean who told me “I am not sure what to do when I am qualified - I will be a nurse, working in Brighton, who can’t afford to live here. If we were able to get into a council house this would change our lives.”
The family who are worried about having to take their children out of Elm Grove Primary School because an unexpected and sudden rent increase of £50 a month means they can no longer afford to live in their existing home.
The student whose friends warned him about the ''Brighton paint job'': landlords or agents simply painting over penetrating damp before viewings, then at the end of the tenancy retaining deposits on the grounds that the tenant has not properly ventilated the property.
The young couple who felt enormous relief at finding somewhere to live, despite paying more than 70% of their income in rent, and then had to cough up an additional £480 in letting agents fees.
For all these people and many, many more, housing has been a key issue for me as an MP. And it’s why I’ll be using today’s debate to call for specific solutions to the problems facing so many of our city’s private renters.
Top of the list is housing security.
One local resident told me of her heartbreak at being given 1 months’ notice to leave the flat she hoped to stay in for a few years. She had spent time planting strawberries in hanging baskets on the fire escape, re-grouted the old tiles in the bathroom and hung pictures.
I think she deserves better and I think she deserves to be able to stay more than the three years that Labour are proposing to let her stay in her home. So I am campaigning for good tenants to have the choice of a 5 year stable rental contract as standard, so everyone can make their house or flat a proper home.
Residents also tell me that they want rent levels to be fairer. So I am backing the idea of smart rent controls, like they have in France and Germany, where rent can’t rise faster than inflation. This would help tenants and landlords plan ahead but I want to go further too, because today’s rent levels are already too high. Anyone wanting to rent a home with two bedrooms, for example, needs to pay an average of £1,205 per month – comparable to parts of South East London.
So I am calling for the establishment of a Living Rent Commission. Greens led the way on the Living Wage and we are doing the same when it comes to fair rent. A Commission would look at whether there are ways to bring rent levels in line with the basic cost of living, and taking into account the impact on eg landlords’ ability to pay their mortgages. It might also set out how much a Living Rent might be, so that landlords could opt in, just as employers have opted into paying the Living Wage.
For so many of the city’s private renters, what they really need is access to social or council housing. Successive Governments have failed to invest and this is at the heart of the housing crisis we now face. Put simply, demand outstrips supply, pushing up rent for private tenants.
More than 300 council homes, many of them empty for many years, have been brought into use by Brighton and Hove Seaside Community Homes during the past two years. Plans for 47 new council homes will be going to planning in the coming year and more will follow. The previous council managed to start just 15 council homes, albeit the first for many years.
But we need more. We need councils to be allowed to borrow the money to build enough affordable and energy efficient council housing. And we need to know that new council homes always will be built to replace those sold off under Right to Buy, guaranteeing that in future there’s an affordable home for all who need one.
Everything I’ll be saying in today’s debate is based on the positive solutions that Brighton Pavilion’s private renters have already been telling me would make a real difference to their lives. I’ve also tabled an amendment to the Labour motion MPs will be voting on – because I don’t believe the motion as it stands will give Brighton Pavilion’s renters the fairness they deserve.
I’ve been talking and listening to residents and next month will be launching a draft Housing Charter based on what you’ve told me. It will include the demands I am raising in Parliament today, many that I’ve been campaigning for since I was first elected in 2010 and some new ideas too. If you live in my constituency you get a say and I want to know if anything’s missing. Several local residents will be joining me to deliver the final Charter to the Housing Minister. More details soon, including on how you can be part of the campaign.
I am also taking every opportunity as one of the city’s MPs to stand up for Generation Rent in the House of Commons. I am presenting my own Housing Bill in a few weeks’ time, building on another Bill I’ve already sponsored, and have tabled a an Early Day Motion as another way of putting pressure on the Government to listen to tenants in the private rented sector.
From the streets of Brighton Pavilion to Parliament, I’m standing up for what matters. Housing that doesn’t bust budgets. Housing that lets people put down roots. Housing that meets the need for new homes. Housing that can be called home.
The recommendations in it are based on my years of work as an MP helping people with their housing related problems and identifying solutions.
If you have any comments about the Charter please email me.
I’ll be talking to constituents, housing advice groups, housing providers and landlords over the coming weeks, including at a special event on July 11th, before delivering a final copy of the Charter to the Housing Minister, with a clear message from Brighton Pavilion about what we need to help solve the housing crisis.