THE fact that one third of students have been cheated out of their rented housing deposits is just one disgraceful consequence of today’s unregulated housing market.
It traps many tenants, not just students, and they often have to put up with appalling conditions.
The market is a jungle, a goldmine for slumlords and the return of what 50 years ago was known as “Rachmanism.”
The number of private renters in Britain has doubled in the last 20 years. It has gone up by one million since 2010, and now stands at 5.4 million.
Meanwhile, the number of council homes has fallen to just two million, a drop of 69 per cent since the Thatcher government brought in “Right to Buy” and started stock transfer to housing associations, who currently manage 1.9 million homes.
Where have the rest of the former council homes gone? Four in 10 are now in the hands of private landlords, who charge rents up to 50 per cent higher than in social housing.
They can do that because the demand is so high. Minuscule numbers of new council and housing association homes are being built, while 1.2 million people are on social housing waiting lists.
Houses for first-time buyers aren’t that easy to come by either. Since the 2008 financial crash, massive deposits have been required from mortgage lenders.
That together with the stagnation in pay rates makes it particularly difficult for young people to get on the home ownership ladder. Less than one third of 25-29 year olds own their own homes; while 39 per cent of 26-30 year olds, and more than 60 per cent of 21-25 year olds, are in private rented housing.
One third of privately rented homes fail basic health and safety standards. Yesterday’s Guardian reported that an estimated 338,000 homes rented by under-35s have been deemed so hazardous that they are likely to cause harm.
The conditions include holes in external walls, lack of heating, insect-infested beds, water pouring through ceilings, vermin, damp and mould.
While Shelter has reported that 48 per cent of families in social housing who complained about conditions felt ignored or were refused help, the consequence for private tenants is often the risk of eviction.
One in five private tenants have faced this, even without complaints. Tenants’ homes, at least in England, can be easily sold beneath their feet, and no-fault eviction notices destroy security.
Eighty-seven Tory and 28 Labour MPs have registered that they own properties from which they earn at least £10,000 a year.
Others, like Tories Chris Pilp and Mims Davies, have interests in property investment companies. No wonder that the government has until recently resisted pressure to regulate private landlords.
Karen Buck MP deserves credit for pursuing the matter in her current Private Members’ Bill, on which the government has given way.
But, even if tenants have a right to take their landlords to court to make their homes fit for human habitation, how many will do so if the landlord can still evict them at short notice?
And what protection is there against landlords withholding the deposit on spurious grounds, let alone the tenant potentially getting blacklisted by other private landlords?
All credit should be given to tenants’ activists groups like Acorn and Living Rent for taking up tenants’ rights, and mobilising to bring pressure on rogue landlords.
Trade unions and trades councils should be seeking to build bridges with such organisations, providing solidarity and bringing these mostly young people into contact with the traditions and strength of the labour movement.
But, of course, that will only provide short-term relief. What we really need is the replacement of this Tory government by a Labour government with its pledges of overcoming homelessness and providing secure homes for all.
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