Private Rented Sector

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:14 pm on 25th June 2014.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:14 pm, 25th June 2014

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend. One of the things that we would like to do in our city is ensure that more graduates stay in Nottingham and do graduate-level jobs, but their ability to buy a home is really important part of that offer. Ministers should come to Nottingham and see for themselves the misery that is being caused by the status quo before attacking Labour’s plans to take action and tackle the issue head-on.

There are excellent professional landlords in Nottingham who take pride in the standard of accommodation they offer, but some do not, and it is important to stress that the management of the private rented sector is not simply a good landlord versus bad landlord issue. The sector is complex, and landlords come in many guises. In particular, there is an emerging need to target so-called “accidental” or “amateur” landlords who are new to the sector—those renting out an inherited family home, letting a property whose owners are in long-term care, or who have bought a house for a family member to live in with others. According to Rightmove, home owners letting out their property as a result of circumstance make up as much as 30% of all landlords, and many are casualties of the recession. Those landlords are often inexperienced and can be naive about the standards and management needed to provide quality, well managed accommodation. With better advice, guidance and—yes—better regulation, we can help those people become responsible landlords who provide decent accommodation for their tenants.

Nottingham city council recently completed a review of property conditions in the city’s private rented sector and assessed the effectiveness of voluntary accreditation as a way of driving up standards. I agree that there should be greater national recognition of accredited landlords and the superior management and service they provide, but our local review concluded that although accreditation is an effective tool in driving up standards, on its own it will always leave a significant part of the market unprotected.

My hon. Friend Diana Johnson spoke about the way accreditation has been used in her city, particularly for students, and that is also the case in Nottingham. For other parts of the market, however, accreditation does not seem to work as well, and it remains a challenge to get landlords to join such schemes. That is why in Nottingham we have introduced an additional licensing scheme under an article 4 direction to manage the private rented sector better, especially in parts of the city with a high concentration of homes of multiple occupation.

Nottingham is a young city with almost a third of its residents aged 18 to 29. That high rate of young people can in part be attributed to the large number of students studying at our popular universities and colleges. The city’s growing student population has been the predominant driver behind the private rented sector’s wish to convert properties into HMOs, particularly in the Dunkirk and Lenton area of my constituency, but also in Radford, the Park, Wollaton Park and Lenton Abbey, which are close to the main campuses of the university of Nottingham. Uncontrolled development of HMOs has put pressure on the number of affordable rented properties suitable for families, and HMOs in high concentration have had an enormous impact on the resilience, balance, stability and sustainability of the neighbourhoods in which they sit.

People in my constituency who have campaigned on HMO-related issues believe that article 4 directions are still enabling HMO creation to take place, but in a controlled manner that benefits tenants as well as other residents in the neighbourhood. Accreditation and licensing are not mutually exclusive—they are complementary tools to improve standards.

The Nottingham experience indicates that the private rented sector, while needing to provide a professional service, is still not professional enough in its approach to rented accommodation, especially for students and other under-35s. In Nottingham that has contributed to the issues our city faces, but Labour’s plans would seek to address such concerns by providing more certainty, more stability, and greater protection for tenants and landlords alike.

Too many tenants and potential tenants face rip-off fees from letting agents. Landlords are being charged for services provided by the agent, and tenants are charged again for the same services. Despite facing fees averaging £355 every time they move, tenants continue to report difficulties in contacting their agents, and serious delays in getting repairs and maintenance completed. It is simply not good enough.

We need better management of the private rented sector, an end to rip-off agents’ fees, action to make three-year tenancies the norm, predictable rent rises, and more homes built to tackle the crisis in supply. Labour’s proposals have the potential to transform life for individual tenants and parts of my constituency that are suffering from the worst effects of the Government’s policies. It is astonishing that Ministers continue to oppose those proposals. Have they simply forgotten the thousands of people in Nottingham who are experiencing the greatest housing crisis in a generation? Well, we have not, and we will not.