We can reform London's rental sector without demonising landlords

Richard Blakeway
London's rental sector is uniquely diverse

THE SHADOW of Peter Rachman, the epitome of the rogue landlord, still lingers over the rented sector. Yet deregulation in the late 1980s means it is incomparable with the rent-controlled, deteriorating rump stock of old. Today’s rented sector houses a phenomenally diverse 2m Londoners. There isn’t a typical renter. Every income group is represented equally, unique among tenures. The sector is home to more singletons, but a third of renters also have children.

That diversity reveals how important the sector is to London and its economy. There are many frustrated Londoners who are renting and want to buy. That’s why funding has been prioritised by the mayor to help 50,000 to own through his First Steps scheme. But renting is also the first stop for many new to the city, and some won’t want to buy. Having doubled in two decades, experts predict the private rented sector will continue to grow rapidly for at least the next decade.

So a robust framework is critical for landlords and tenants. This encompasses agents too, who are increasingly specialising in letting. For too long, private rental was overlooked by policymakers, who focused on affordable housing and private sale. But under this mayor, robust policies have been introduced to manage the sector’s growth, not stifle it, and to promote professional standards among landlords rather than demonise them.

The strategy is three-fold: set professional standards; tackle poor building conditions with tougher enforcement; and promote US-style long-term, purpose-built homes for rent to boost housebuilding – our biggest challenge.

The latest part is the London Rental Standard, launched today. It consists of 24 measures to make a tangible difference for those renting or letting.

London is potentially the first city to do this, with thousands of landlords and agents being asked to sign up. The standard covers three areas: financial protections, better building conditions, and daily management.

Most landlords want to be responsible and most tenants are happy, but there’s evidence of low levels of awareness of fundamental laws concerning letting a property. The English Housing Survey found that two thirds of landlords have no formal property management experience, and 85 per cent have never heard of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, despite boroughs having the power to prosecute. Promoting professional standards will help. Landlords and agents will be able to sign up to seven accrediting bodies, training either online or face-to-face. There is a package of incentives, with discounts on insurance and deposit schemes, as well as the knowledge they have met a professional standard.

For landlords paying agents to manage their property, this is a chance to ensure they are capable of doing a professional job. And while there is competition for properties, the London Rental Standard will help to drive consumer behaviour, with a Good Landlords portal under development and a badge to distinguish trained landlords from so-called rogue ones.

Growing London’s economy means boosting housing. Alongside work to deliver a record 100,000 low cost homes, and regeneration plans to double housebuilding, the launch of the London Rental Standard is a major step to make renting better in the capital.

Richard Blakeway is deputy mayor for housing, land and property.