Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:02 pm, 25th June 2014

I cannot give way any more. I apologise.

There is also squalor in the private rented sector. In my constituency there are landlords, the majority of whom own one or two properties, who do not maintain them. This has been made worse by the economic recession. Walk down any street in my constituency and it will be clear from the standard of the properties and their maintenance which ones are the buy-to-lets. When the tenants complain, they are evicted. They have virtually no legal redress, because they cannot get into the courts; or they turn up at the citizens advice bureau or the law centre and it is difficult to get advice because they too are swamped. There is also an element of blacklisting of certain tenants who challenge particular landlords. The environmental health standards of some properties are appalling, yet obtaining enforcement by the council is difficult. I do not blame the local authority, because with staff cuts it is difficult to provide cover for the scale of the problem faced and the enforcement required.

Houses in multiple occupation in my constituency have experienced all the health and safety risks, including fires and, unfortunately, some fatalities as well. There is a continuous churning process, with families in short-life accommodation, perhaps for 18 months or two years, being moved out. That disrupts the family, breaking down family relationships and undermining communities, and the long-term impact on children’s education and social relationships is devastating.

The solution is a statement of the blindingly obvious: build more council houses. I was critical of the previous Government. We had debates such as this, but I think that the Labour party has learned the lesson that we now need to invest in social housing on a scale that we have not done in the last 20, 30 or 40 years. We need a massive council housing programme. Councils should be encouraged compulsorily to purchase empty land. We cannot wait around any longer while we negotiate with developers. The crisis is too large. In an area of desperate housing need, we still have empty properties. Homes are standing empty. There are 700,000 empty properties in this country, 300,000 of them long-term, beyond six months. We should be encouraging councils to use their compulsory purchase powers to take over those properties, and put homeless families in them.

I support everything in the motion, but, as my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson said, it will have limited effect, at least in my area. What we need are rent controls. We are accused of Chavezism, but I am quite proud of that. I am a Bolivarian. The only thing that would work in my area is control of rents, because at least in that way we would get back some form of affordable housing. If it is not the same in other areas, let us devolve the ability and the power to local authorities to determine in their area whether they want the power to control rents and at what level they should be set. That would at least give hope to families in my community that they might have a decent roof over their heads for their children.