I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and welcome my hon. Friend Sarah Jones to our housing team. This tenant fees legislation is very welcome. We know that the majority of landlords are good landlords, or strive to be, and understand the expectations upon them before they embark on becoming a landlord. However, a number of rogue landlords and letting agents give the sector a bad name, undermine the good work of quality agents and landlords, and they have squeezed tenants for cash in unfair ways, with disproportionate charges for unjustifiable reasons. It is right that the Government are acting to change this unfair system and Labour welcomes that, but it would be remiss of me to fail to remind the House that we first suggested a move to ban letting fees back in 2013. After five years, it is good that the Government are finally acting on this issue. If we get the Bill right, it will have a positive impact on people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.
The overriding purpose of the legislation is to help to shift the balance of power from unscrupulous agents and landlords towards decent tenants—to make renting fairer, more affordable and more transparent and to give tenants greater clarity and control over what they pay. We will all have heard horror stories of agents or landlords charging people excessive fees to secure properties, or throughout tenancies, imposing additional charges with excessively high administration fees. With fewer social properties available, this places great difficulties on those with low incomes, or those who are renting alone or simply cannot thousands of pounds in up-front fees. In an increasingly competitive market, that has led to the UK’s nearly 5 million private renters sometimes feeling that they are an easy target from which to extract unnecessarily large sums of money. That is on top of the £50 billion a year paid in private rents.
As the number of private renters is predicted to rise to 5.6 million people by 2021, we should be aiming for a gold standard of contract of understanding between renters and landlords, or their agents. As it stands, there is an inherent tension between landlords who view their property as an asset or investment and a tenant who sees it as their home. We have to take steps to bring those two positions closer together.
Increasingly there are larger, more professional companies recognising the importance of peoples’ home life and striving to provide properties in high-demand areas. They do not use agents, seek to develop a sense of community and aim to retain tenants for as long as possible and keep rents affordable in line with local incomes—in places such as Argo Apartments—and stand in stark contrast to the enormous billboard I saw from Wentworth Estates, boasting that it could guarantee rents for between one and five years for landlords, would provide three months’ rent in advance and could offer “free evictions”.