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Property Management | Boris Johnson: will he really improve London’s private rented housing sector?

Property Management | Boris Johnson: will he really improve London’s private rented housing sector?

With our guaranteed rent scheme our landlords benefit from a free property management service, where we vet all tenants and conduct regular free inspections.

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Shelter has released figures showing that private rents in London devour more than half an average household’s income in 23 of the capital’s 32 boroughs, with territories as varied as Ealing, Brent, Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea among the top ten least affordable. The picture is just slightly more hideous than the one provided by the same organisation in October 2011, and coincides with Boris Johnson’s inviting Londoners to response to his ideas for addressing the problems with the capital’s private rented sector (pdf).

There is no cause for over-excitement. Johnson’s housing commitments as a whole were the meekest on offer from the four main parties at last year’s mayoral election and his silence about the inadequate policies – and related, short-sighted benefit reforms – of his Tory allies in the coalition has been deafening: the herd media of Westminster Village are obsessed with magnifying his trivial differences with David Cameron and co, but “Good Old Boris” is more his party leader’s collaborator than his rival.

His first moves towards honouring his manifesto pledges on housing have taken outline form in three “housing covenant” documents, the first of which announced:Property Management

I want to strike a deal with all Londoners: if you contribute to the well being and success of this magnificent city, then the city will do all it reasonably can to provide you with the housing you need and deserve.

This overture, with its insinuation that some less affluent Londoners are deserving of mayoral help while others aren’t, seems pretty much in line with that unpleasant and deceitful “strivers versus skivers” narrative Johnson’s Tory counterparts in the cabinet have been deploying. Johnson repeated the message in the foreword of his “covenant” paper on the PRS, which was published last month. Not very heartening. So does the document have anything to recommend it?

Its declared objectives are to increase the supply of homes for private rent and improve standards in a sector that already accommodates a quarter of London households and is expected to account for more than a third by 2025. Its driving motivation, articulating the “growth and jobs” headline mantra of Johnson’s second term, is to make the PRS more fit for enterprising incomers and middle income workers who can’t afford to buy and don’t qualify for social housing – of which there are, of course, very many.

Much of it reads a little like a sales pitch to property developers and investors, promising to “support the establishment of PRS investment vehicles” and “growing interest in build-to-let,” through the planning system and mayoral landholdings. The goal is to increase supply, which is described, rightly enough, as “the key to addressing affordability issues in our housing market.”Property Management

Not much in principle to quarrel with so far – similar goals have been pursued by politicians across the spectrum at all levels of government, including City Hall, since well before Johnson took up residence there. So what about improving standards in the sector?

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A draft London Rental Standard, comprising lists of minimum requirements of landlords and letting agencies, appears in Appendix 1 (page 34 (pdf)). It is stressed that this is “not an accreditation scheme” but a definition of the minimum standards the mayor expects from such schemes that already exist in London (or might in future). Signing up to it will be entirely voluntary.

Though Johnson is “strongly supportive of the development of a single badge of accreditation for all accrediting organisations that meet the London Rental Standard,” that’s as far as he wants to go: “The Mayor does not propose to directly accredit landlords and agents in London.” An independent panel would be set up to decide if accrediting organisations comply with the LRS once its requirement are finalised.

All this might seem pretty watery to some, especially those who’d like to see a return to the formal rent controls abolished in the Eighties. Johnson’s document is strident in ruling that out – perhaps oddly so, given that support for the return of such controls is thin on the ground even among opposition politicians and housing campaigners. But maybe the LRS could have a significant impact if it achieved high visibility, credibility and desirability among tenants and landlords alike.

Shelter, which has had some input into the evolution of Johnson’s offer,
is encouraging London renters to let the mayor know what they want, describing the LRS as “a big opportunity to redesign renting in the capital to make it more transparent, accountable and affordable,” Suggestions elaborated by Shelter folk themselves include timetables for making repairs to properties being included in tenancy agreements, assurances that reporting problems won’t result in eviction, advance warning of rent rises, prior information from lettings agencies about their charges and the introduction of contracts to enable families and others to be confident that their rented house or flat can also be a long-term home.

Johnson says he’s keen for landlords to come up with new types of tenancy agreement attractive to families with children, but has declined to endorse Shelter’s stable rental contract idea, which would include a five-year tenancy, annual rent increases linked to CPI inflation and a two-month notice period. Shelter argues that this would be “good for landlords’ business models as well as good for tenants,” and would like strong tenant input into the LRS project, to ensure that affordability is not forgotten.

View the original article here

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