Spiralling rents must be stopped

Bristol Councillor Tom Hathway and London Assembly Member Sian Berry highlight the failures of the private rented sector, leading the call for rent controls in major cities.

Modular low cost housing
Cllr Tom Hathway and Sian Berry

Greens in Bristol and London are leading the call for rent controls in major cities as they reveal billions overcharged by landlords since 2011.

A roof over our heads is critical to living happy and healthy lives, and should be recognised as a fundamental human right. Yet for those living in the private rented sector, the reality often leaves renters trapped in poverty, or just getting by each month with no safety net.

As Greens, we recognise that the free market on private rentals is broken, and are calling for powers to control rents to be devolved from the Government to Mayors and councils in major cities.

The housing charity Shelter ran a “Home Truths” campaign in Bristol that found common themes in people’s experience of renting: unaffordability, insecurity and discrimination. And in terms of costs, rents in both our cities have outstripped wage inflation by a total of billions that our landlords have been paid which could have been providing more equality and security.

We have created a calculator tool that looks at the overcharged rent we have paid during a decade in which inflation has outstripped wage rises. It uses ONS data on average wages in each city to compare these with average rents. 

Using our tools, any London or Bristol renter can put in the rent you pay today, and the year you started renting to find out what your rent would be today if it had been pegged to local wage growth, as well as the total you have been overcharged as a result.

The results make for grim reading, and show just how much rents have been spiralling out of control in cities like London and Bristol. 

The total overpaid by Bristol’s 134,000 renters over the past decade comes in at a massive £869 million. For London’s more than one million renting households, the total is an eye-watering £25.4 billion. Importantly, these huge sums aren’t even the total rent we have paid – just the extra handed over compared with a situation where cities had been able to use rent controls to limit increases to wage inflation

Rent controls are not new and not uncommon across the world. We had them in the UK until Margaret Thatcher’s government deregulated private rents in 1988. A handful of people who have rented the same place since then may even be still in a fair rent contract, which means rent demands from landlords can be independently reviewed.

In Scotland, ‘Rent Pressure Zones’ can now be designated, where tenants in an area cannot have their rent raised by more than one per cent above Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation each year. In Berlin, landlords cannot set rent for new tenants any higher than ten per cent above the local average from the previous four years. And in Sweden, rent increases are negotiated by tenants’ associations.

There are many different models of rent controls that could be practically explored for our cities to put a stop to the increasing strain of paying the rent. Along with the right not to be evicted for no reason and longer tenancies, this would support many more people in securing their human right to a home. 

What is clear is that we can no longer sit back and do nothing. We cannot continue with the failing free-market idea that we can build our way out of this rent crisis.

Greens in Bristol and London, two of the places worst hit by rent inflation, have teamed up to help renters across our cities work out the impact of a decade of runaway rents on their finances and take action to push for our Labour Mayors to join with other city and regional Mayors in a unified demand to the Government for devolved powers on rents. 

If you live in Bristol, you can find the calculator and sign the petition to the Mayor here. London renters can work out your overcharged rent and write to the Mayor here.

Our voice is powerful when elected Greens join together with those affected by bad policies and make a clear call for change. Right now, energy and food prices are surging and, with people still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, it is time to stand up and stop citizens from being priced out of our homes.

Green MSPs in Scotland included rent control in this year’s power-sharing negotiations with the SNP, and the Welsh Government is now looking at introducing new legislation on rent caps and second homes after an election where Greens won their highest ever vote.

If your Green Party team would like to join Bristol and London and set up a campaign to push your council or Mayor to stand up for rent control powers for your city, please get in touch with either of us!