My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. I will say at the outset that I shall make a few comments that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, passed on to me because he was not able to stay for this debate. He is very well informed on this subject, as all noble Lords will be aware.
I think that there has to be an understanding. I strongly support the idea that no agent should be able to charge both sides and make a double killing; that is almost immoral, and it is certainly very much against the tenants if they have to pay twice. But the noble Earl made the point that not all tenants are pleasant, honest or good, and we must not be carried away with the idea that all landlords are bad and all tenants are good. That is not the way that things are. This is about a transaction between adults. These are the points that he was making.
The noble Earl says that there is a huge amount of advice available to renters. Funnily enough, I have not found that myself; I found that the amount of advice for renters is not perhaps as adequate as it could be. The inequalities in bargaining power and opportunities for exploitation are very high in areas of very high value or deprived locations, and they are not necessarily representative of the entire market. Checking out tenant credentials is a repetitive activity and, because of the significant liabilities in relation to some of these, such as the right to rent, they add to the cost, which needs to be met somehow. It is true that references have to be taken up and nationality has to be proved, along with the right to be in the country; quite a lot of things come up with that. I hope the noble Earl will join in at later stages of the Bill because I believe that he has a considerable part to play.
I know that everyone is well aware of the interest I have in short-term lettings—holiday lets—and the damage that that is doing to ordinary tenants. Recently the Mayor of London made a statement about the damage that it has done and how the huge loss of rental properties is very much against tenants’ interests. People want properties available to rent, and for them to be reasonable to live in and enjoy. I have quoted before about the block in which I have had an interest in properties for many years, with long-term tenants of over five years in one and four years in the other. I am lucky to have them, because we have had all these terrible tenancies, totally illegally. People have been letting on short holiday lets, although that is strictly banned in the leases they have. These people are terrorising others in the block. One particular lady in her 90s is abused all the time. Rotting food is left everywhere around the building.
It is quite incredible that it is so bad now because power has been taken away from local authorities. When I have asked Questions for Written Answer about whether the Government would encourage local authorities to apply to have control in these matters again, the answer has always been a definite no. The Government are just not interested. They should be interested, because if local authorities had a right to register properties, there would be a safer position for lots of people. I do not think that it is fair.
To mention in passing, because it has been a long battle and is another very important point regarding the landlords’ situation: you cannot really ask people to abide by a lease for short lets for Airbnb. I spoke to the Minister when he was going to have a meeting with Airbnb. He said it told him that it asks people whether they have a right to sublet. But I asked Airbnb the same question, and it told me it does not, although it had said yes to the Minister. What is the truth? Only by some external authority being able to take over, such as local authorities if they were willing, is there going to be anyone checking on these things. At long last, under the right to manage scheme, you can only obtain—what is the word? Reclaiming the property. I am sure that everyone knows the word.