Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:47 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Stephen McPartland Stephen McPartland Conservative, Stevenage 2:47 pm, 25th June 2014

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her clarification. However, my issue is with rogue landlords because they will push for rent increases.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has said that

“we do not recommend that a government introduce a ceiling on rent increases.”

The Opposition will no doubt consult the RICS to discuss what flexibility to have on rent ceilings. The RICS does not want rent increases, but that is the organisation most likely to be consulted. For me, if interest rates are likely to rise because of the success of our long-term economic plan—we are now starting to see an economic recovery—landlords will want to ensure that they have some flexibility, because of potential interest rate rises and to protect their future finances. The RICS and other organisations will try to ensure that the band is as wide as possible, but if it was 10%, a rogue landlord could tell a tenant, “You’re tied into a three-year tenancy with me, and I am going to increase your rent by 10% over the next three years.” For me, the issue is about how we prevent rogue landlords from taking advantage of vulnerable people.

We must tackle rogue landlords. The only way to do so is to increase supply and to enforce regulations. Hon. Members have spoken about additional regulation and legislation, but I have discovered that 100 Acts of Parliament and 400 regulations apply to private landlords at the moment. Those are huge numbers, and I am not sure that we need any more; we just need people to get out there and enforce current regulations.

I am very proud about the over-supply provided by Stevenage borough council. For the first time in more than 25 years, it has started to build council houses as a result of this Government’s wonderful investment in the town. Under a Conservative-led coalition Government, we have 30 new council houses in a Labour area—the borough council has been Labour for many years—and I am delighted that we have been able to push for them. Thanks to the Conservative Government, we will have new council houses in Stevenage.

In my view, letting agents’ fees must be transparent. I am delighted that the Government will force letting agents to display any charges they make on tenants on online forms and, if they have any, in their shops. I am concerned that if letting agents’ fees were abolished, the charges would be passed on in a new way, as a form of tenants tax. At the end of the day, rogue landlords will ensure that they get every penny they feel entitled to, so our vulnerable constituents will again be affected, unfortunately, if they have to pay such a tenants tax. Apparently, that has happened in Scotland, where rents have begun to rise a little.

I want a vibrant rental sector, with quality housing, in which local people have faith. I am very lucky that the majority of private landlords in Stevenage are local people who are investing in our local community. Therefore, we do not have many issues, and I do not have many constituents coming to my surgery upset about private sector landlords. However, Stevenage borough council is a large public sector landlord, with more than 8,000 properties in my constituency, and I get a huge number of complaints about it.

Hon. Members have talked about decent homes funding. Again, the coalition Government have provided most of the decent homes funding given to Stevenage borough council, which was very late coming to the show in improving council houses. It is increasing rents faster than anywhere else in the whole of Hertfordshire, which I find unacceptable, and it has the biggest number of evictions and eviction notices in my constituency and in Hertfordshire. It is not therefore possible to talk about the public sector as great and the private sector as bad; this is about getting a great deal for tenants, so that they can have somewhere to live and have flexibility and security.