Wednesday 27 November 2019 6:58 am

How the main political parties plan to help renters

Wherever you stand on the recent debate about landlords putting thermostats in cages, many of us can agree that the rental system needs improving. 

This has become increasingly apparent as the number of people living in private rented accommodation has grown, doubling in the past three decades.

Fortunately (and perhaps unsurprisingly), the main political parties appear to be taking note, having realised that this is a sure-fire way to win the votes of many millennials, a third of whom are expected to rent for their entire lives.

“One in four families is currently renting from a private landlord, and our research has identified 47 marginal seats where renters could decide the fate of this election,” says Georgie Laming, campaigns manager at Generation Rent. “Renters are a political force that parties can no longer ignore, so it’s no wonder that political parties are beginning to take the renting crisis seriously at this election.”

So let’s take a look at the proposals from the three major political parties.

Loan to rent

The Liberal Democrats want to promote longer tenancies of at least three years in order to give tenants more security. This would be a complete turnaround from the current short-term rental system, where the overwhelming majority of tenants are on six or 12 month contracts, according to Shelter. 

Many families worry that they could be forced to uproot their entire lives at the hands of their landlords, so this policy makes sense to provide certainty, particularly for those parents who have school-age children. 

The Lib Dems have also proposed limiting rent hikes, while also improving protections against rogue landlords through licensing.

So far, so straightforward. 

However, a more controversial rental policy pledge from the Lib Dems is to help young people into the rental market by establishing a new Help to Rent scheme. This would take the form of government-backed tenancy deposit loans for all first-time renters under 30. 

While a rental deposit can equate to a large sum of money (landlords can ask for an upfront deposit of up to five weeks’ rent), the policy leaves more questions than answers. Would tenants effectively be paying interest on the loan? Is it helpful to encourage young people to take out debt rather than save? And what if the landlord wanted to make deductions?

If anything, the policy seems to overcomplicate an already complicated situation. 

It’s also thought that the impact would be limited, given that the loan would only be offered to first-time renters.

Fault lines

The Labour party has proposed an extensive list of policies, which includes abolishing section 21 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. 

The so-called “no fault eviction” law allows landlords to evict renters from their properties without giving a reason. Abolishing this would put a stop to so-called revenge evictions, where unscrupulous landlords turf out tenants who complain about the property.

As well as offering new open-ended tenancies, the party also pledges to get tougher on landlords who let out properties that don’t meet basic living standards. 

Like the Lib Dems, Labour has vowed to impose rent controls by capping them against inflation, while also giving councils the power to limit rents further. 

Figures from Howsy estimate that tenants in London are paying between 46 per cent and 83 per cent of their monthly income on rent, so it’s clear that levels have ballooned beyond what is affordable for many people. 

There are, of course, questions over how Labour would make these policies work in practice, as well as  concerns over whether they would limit the supply of rental homes.

Passport control

The Conservatives have also acknowledged the need to create a fairer rental market by protecting tenants from rogue landlords. 

Like Labour, the Tory party has proposed abolishing no-fault evictions to give renters more security. 

The Tories’ differentiating policy is the pledge to give renters a “lifetime” deposit, which transfers to landlords when tenants move between rental properties. This is also known as “deposit passporting”, which is an idea that has been touted as a way of preventing tenants from needing to save up a new deposit when they move.

However, there are practical issues around this, such as where deductions are made from the deposit, or where rent at the next property is higher.

Renting is, and will continue to be, an important part of the housing market. If millions of people are going to live in rental accommodation from cradle to grave, at the very least, the new government should make sure it is functioning fairly for everyone.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.