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08/02/2018

London needs a strategy to improve its private rented sector

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London's private rented sector makes up a quarter of the capital's households – but it's in desperate need of reform, says Jo Wilson

London's private rented sector makes up a quarter of the capital's households – but it's in desperate need of reform, says Jo Wilson

London’s private rented sector (PRS) forms more than a quarter of the capital’s households. But its rocketing rents, low-grade stock and inconsistent management are failing its users. 

Over three years, Future of London investigated strategies to improve London’s PRS. The message of our final report is collaboration: the sector’s complexity will not be tackled by a single organisation or policy, but by greater alliance between public, private and community entities.

As the PRS has grown, so have its functions. It is a substitute for social housing and owner-occupation, and often a more appropriate (and affordable) option for councils securing temporary accommodation than B&Bs. 

Local authorities have significant roles to play in the new-build PRS – or ‘build to rent’ – market, as developers, landowners and planning authorities. The report identifies 13 council-run development companies with ambitions to build thousands of homes for private rent, alone or with a development partner. 

To realise these objectives, councils must be realistic: a high return on their land may impinge on viable levels of affordable housing, and vice versa. New developments are a fraction of London’s PRS. The sector’s known challenges of poor management, hazardous conditions and high rates of eviction reside within the existing sector. But practitioners and policymakers can respond.

“Local authorities have significant roles to play in the new-build PRS – or ‘build to rent’ – market”

• Private renters are an invaluable source of intelligence, and can help build cases against criminal landlords. Councils and housing associations should create opportunities for renters to help shape policies and services. Vulnerable renters will need more support – enlisting voluntary sector partners to offer targeted services should reduce eviction rates.   

• England should join the devolved nations by developing a mandatory landlord registration system – a low-cost mechanism to connect landlords and local government. It could be accompanied by an online platform to provide landlords with comprehensive information on regulation and standards, retrofit and energy efficiency, and a forum to share experiences. 

• London’s PRS challenges are more severe than in other regions. The Greater London Authority’s new rogue landlord and agent checker and big increase in local landlord licensing schemes prove the drive to improve London’s PRS. Central government should grant the mayor more resources to consolidate this work. 

Download Engaging London’s Private Rented Sector (pdf)

Jo Wilson was until recently head of policy at the independent policy network Future of London and remains an associate while pursuing other projects

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