At the heart of this debate is a chronic under-supply of housing, because for successive decades there simply have not been enough houses built of all types of tenure. That is the challenge that we have to face. It is not about singling out private landlords, although it is in the private rented sector that the consequences of the failure to tackle under-supply are to be seen. We also need to make sure that we are building more houses to buy and for social landlords to let, and that we continue to allow the expansion of the private rented sector.
There is no doubt that there are rogue landlords out there who are exploiting tenants, but there are also many good, decent landlords. Most landlords want long-term tenants in their properties. They want people who will treat their properties as their homes and look after them. It is simply not the case that an army of small landlords is engineering this churn.
There are also a number of reluctant landlords, particularly in constituencies such as mine. We have all talked about the challenges of affordability, particularly for first-time buyers, so we have lots of people out there who are letting a room so that they can use the income to get on the housing ladder. Most of them would prefer to have their home to themselves, but it is the means for them to acquire a home. Those people need to be encouraged. They do not need a wealth of bureaucracy that stops them being good landlords. Equally, as a result of the economic challenges of recent years, we have seen a lot of turbulence in the housing market. We also see many family breakdowns, so people often sit on properties that they cannot afford to liberate to sell, for one reason or another, and they want the long-term security of long-term tenants. We should not be making it difficult for them.
I have been struck by the comments made by Members representing London where, again, the problems of under-supply are particularly acute. There are people who are taking advantage of that, and some letting agents also play the system and encourage churn in their properties: because every time they find a new tenant, they get a letting fee. I have witnessed that practice being encouraged in my constituency, although people would rather keep a tenant for as long as possible. However, when many people are entering the field, owners are always encouraged, with the promise of a higher rent, to change tenants. There is a lot to be said for educating the public about some of these bad practices so that they know how to avoid them. I take the view that educating the public is perhaps the best way in which to get higher standards generally. Regulations are usually a pretty poor tool because, as we have heard, they are often not enforced. We have heard about councils’ failure to take enforcement action against rogue landlords. The best thing we can do is ensure that all tenants know their rights and what they can expect from their landlords.
We have heard a lot in this debate about security of tenure, and rather less about the quality of some of our private rented properties, which is my concern today. The quality of one’s living accommodation can be good or bad for one’s health. We have talked about some properties being poorly maintained, but poorly maintained rented properties are not the preserve of the private rented sector. In my constituency, the worst properties are those owned by the council.