Private renting is an important issue for us – in the borough roughly a third of residents live in privately rented accommodation and in our ward we have dealt with many pieces of casework relating to the private rented sector, from damp and repairs to security of tenure.
Last year, we organised a survey and meeting for private renters in West Norwood. Many of you who attended told us that you weren’t always confident in asserting your rights to landlords, or that landlords weren’t aware of all of their responsibilities. Renters have told us in the survey and at our surgeries that rents are increasing and getting harder to manage.
We have been working hard to champion the private rented sector, so that the council makes fuller use of its powers to intervene when landlords don’t meet the standards they should, and provides the information and support that good tenants and good landlords need to improve the sector.
We’re proud that Lambeth Labour recently voted to call on the Government to end Section 21, and you can read Councillor Anna Birley’s blog about her experiences of Section 21 and renting locally. She is now the Private Renting Policy Lead for Lambeth. As part of this work, we have introduced tougher fines on rogue landlords, recruited more enforcement officers to drive up standards and moved ahead with a licensing scheme for landlords for flats with five or more renters.
But there’s more to do – and currently we are consulting on renters’ main priorities and challenges are to help shape the council’s next steps. The first outcome will be to draw up a private renters’ charter, to set out renters’ rights, give advice, support and guidance, as well as detail the council’s powers to intervene and will be published later this year.
House prices are putting homeownership out of reach and by the end of 2021 it is predicted that almost one in four households will be renting privately.
Nowhere is this more acute than in London. In 2011-12 the proportion of private tenants in London rose above the proportion of social rented tenants for the first time since the mid-1960s, and this number continues to rise. A growing number of our residents in Thurlow Park, and across West Norwood and Herne Hill, rent privately.
Most private landlords want to ‘do the right thing’ by their tenants but they often lack the knowledge or support to get this right. Other landlords make the most of the unregulated nature of the private rented market. We know from our own experiences of renting locally, that the sector needs to improve. Too often at our advice surgeries hear stories from residents with issues ranging from damp and mismanagement, to excessive lettings agent fees and unfair evictions.
A third of private rented homes fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard and stagnant wages cannot keep pace with spiralling rents. The housing benefit freeze mean many in the private rented sector now face a substantial monthly shortfall between the housing benefit they receive and even the cheapest rents.
We believe the private rented sector must improve – so we are setting up a new group for private renters in West Norwood so that we can campaign for change. By coming together, we can share our experiences, support each other, and have a louder voice.
Please join our first meeting on 25th January to talk about how we can work together locally to improve the private rented sector. We have booked a space at Knowles of Norwood, 294-296 Norwood Road, from 7pm, and will be joined by a speaker from Generation Rent. Let us know you’re coming on Facebook.
Helen Hayes, MP for Dulwich and West Norwood explains why she is supporting a private members bill which calls for measures to reduce homelessness.
Helen has been doing a lot of work on housing, through casework at her regular surgeries with residents and through her role on the Communities and Local Government Committee. It is a huge issue here in Lambeth – every week residents come to us and to Helen for help as they are threatened with homelessness or have experienced it.
While the council is doing all it can to build new council homes and support vulnerable residents, more needs to be done to ensure that people who are in desperate housing need are not turned away. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act of 1977 went a long way to ensure homeless people with priority needs are housed – Helen’s work with her colleagues on the Select Committee will, almost 40 years later, seek to build on this reform.