Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 1:41 pm, 25th June 2014

We have heard today about London, but, along with Brighton, Southampton is the rented homes capital of the south. Something like half of the homes in the city are rented. There are some 25,000 private rented properties in Southampton—about a quarter of all properties in the city—50% of which are homes in multiple occupation. Mr Prisk mentioned HMOs in his contribution a moment ago, but I have to say that the first thing this Government did when they came to power in 2010 was to remove the regulations that the previous Government had put in place. Those regulations would have enabled that sector to be better regulated and organised. I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports my call for those regulations to be restored as soon as possible to ensure better regulation of the HMO sector, certainly in Southampton and across the rest of the country.

Private rented properties in Southampton are in the province of landlords with not just one or two properties, but hundreds of properties across the city. In my constituency surgeries, I regularly hear about the problems that arise from the sheer size of this sector. Families might have taken out a lease on a house, settled their kids in local schools, raised the often substantial deposit and tried to settle down only to be turfed out unexpectedly at the end of a six-month lease period. It might not necessarily be in the first six months, but later when they thought they were secure in that property. What are they going to do? Where will they go? They cannot get instant council points to rent in the public sector. Do they rip their children out of the schools and start somewhere else? Will they even get back their deposit, which they have often borrowed, to allow them to start again?

Single renters also come to see me. They are often faced with poor quality rooms in those homes in multiple occupation. They have to deal with letting agencies that sometimes just rip them off, loading charges on them so that they can squeeze out more money at that vulnerable point when the person is trying to obtain a rental. I am talking about people with very little or no recourse to protect themselves.

Just as is the case nationally, the problems in Southampton come from a minority of landlords and letting agencies. Many landlords are first class and provide a secure and decent home for tenants, and many agencies really look after the people who come to them for lets. The point is that the nature of the rented market at the moment, couched as it is in insecurity and the possibility that rip-offs and unreasonable behaviour by landlords and agencies towards their tenants will generally go unchallenged, means that there is always the fear among renters that that will happen to them. Sometimes it does quite unexpectedly, and that is often when I see them at my constituency surgery. It is fair to say that there is widespread fear of the insecurity in the private rented sector in Southampton. It does not matter that it is only a minority of landlords and letting agencies that feed that fear.

We need to reform the rented market to provide greater clarity and security for those who rent. Renters need to know what they can expect in their letting and how they can live subsequent to a letting being achieved. I understand that Southampton’s housing statistics will not change, but we need to see a change in the way that renters gain and keep their tenancies. We want proper regulation of letting agencies and deposits and three-year security if needed, with flexibility for shorter lengths. That would make an incalculable difference to those people who live in the rented sector in Southampton.