Councillor Vincenzo Rampulla (Church Street Ward) led Labour’s call for a strategy for the Private Rented Sector at last night’s Council meeting:
“The reason we have called this debate is simple – residents across Westminster want it on the council’s agenda and are telling us we cannot ignore it anymore.
They tell us they don’t want political point-scoring, or ideological sparring – they want a rational, reasonable debate that, crucially, delivers real action and a better private rented sector for Westminster.
I want to thank the many Westminster residents who have taken time to join in our debate so my plea to members is this: let’s give our residents that debate and let’s give them that action. They deserve it.
Why we cannot ignore the private rented sector
If any member is under the illusion that Westminster’s private rented sector doesn’t need debate then I have one number for you:
That’s the amount private renters paid buy-to-let landlords in rent last year.
That’s four times the annual turnover of Oxford St at its busiest.
4 out of 10 Westminster residents are renting from private landlords, making our borough one of the five largest private rented sectors in London.
If all 60 councillors represented the tenure make up in Westminster then 24 of you would be renting from landlords.
Those 24 councillors would be paying about 40 per cent of their income in rent – probably more as Westminster is an area of high cost and demand.
So the sector in Westminster is big and important.
But this isn’t a debate about the sector should be bigger or smaller, and it isn’t about whether renters should be paying more or less.
That is a debate for a different place.
This is about whether renters in Westminster are getting value for money, whether they are getting a fair deal, whether they are being protected and who is supporting them when they need help.
This is a council that is very active when it sees the need to be – on busking and on pedicabs.
So we know Westminster Council can act when willing, is it wrong to ask for the same sort of action when we see that one in every 8 private rented properties inspected in Westminster needing enforcement action?
Members might argue that according to Government figures the vast majority of renters are happy and no action is needed.
But the problem isn’t where things are going right, it is the cost – to landlords, renters and the council – of when things go wrong.
The Citizens Advice Bureau, who along with other advice charities are at the public front line, say;
– Problems in the private rented sector are up 6 per cent
– Around one in every seven issues are about repairs and maintenance, another one in seven are about illegal eviction.
– Those illegal evictions are exactly the situations that the council should be concerned about – almost 40% of rough sleepers in Westminster are coming from the private rented sector far more than any other sector.
– And a third of properties are still below basic decent homes standards.
No wonder writers in the Daily Telegraph, that last bastion of socialist big state intervention, is saying: “We need to regulate the rental market better”
Now some of the action is for national government to argue over and that is why we’re asking for the council to redouble its efforts to persuade the Government to take that action.
But some action can and should happen at a local level.
What are we asking for?
Well it is really rather simple.
We want Westminster City Council to have a standalone private rented sector strategy, set alongside the council’s housing strategy.
That strategy would:
• Identify those areas that represent the worst standards in the sector;
• Set out how the council will use all legal powers currently available to address poor standards and proactively take enforcement measures;
• Encourage the use of longer-term tenancies to add stability for Westminster families;
• Encourage institutional investment to increase the supply of new, well-run and affordable rented accommodation in Westminster;
• Ensuring renters and landlords in Westminster know about the Mayor’s Rental Standard and that it is actively championed in Westminster;
Given the dependence of the council on the private rented sector in meeting housing need in Westminster – surely it makes sense to ensure that officers let potential renters what their rights and responsibilities are?
At the moment officers give little or no information to potential renters which sounds like it is just asking for trouble.
Secondly there is a case for saying that there is too much anti-social behaviour happening in this sector and that a license for renting property would help ensure that the council and communities wasn’t lumbered with the cost of that.
We want the council to set up a working group with a clear mandate to investigate how a such a system would work and would be funded within six months.
Several councils around London are actively looking at these local licenses and typically they cost less than 30p a day.
Such a licensing scheme would
o Cut council tax avoidance, Newham Council has seen £1.3m in council tax arrears and avoidance recovered;
o Opportunity to target enforcement efficiently to tackle unacceptable standards;
o Tackling rogue and criminal behaviour, currently hidden within Westminster;
o Encouraging more professionalism and higher standards across Westminster;
o Providing tenants and landlords with information about their rights and responsibilities, as well as promoting the Mayor’s Rental Standard.
As a renter I can tell you that I’d be willing to pay 30p a day if I could be sure my landlord was a professional, who knew their rights and responsibilities.
And I know professional landlords that pay thousands in insurance, repairs and maintenance costs who would be willing to pay 30p a day to ensure that problem landlords were being dealt with and potential renters could be confident they were delivering a good service.
What we are asking for is reasonable, sensible, low cost and credible. It is something that should get support from across the council.”