The London Assembly has voted in favour of stronger protections for the capital's renters.
In a meeting on Wednesday, Assembly members voted 12 to 7 in favour of a motion for three-year tenancies, banning letting agents' fees for tenants and setting rent increases to average market rents or inflation (to avoid eye-watering increases on a landlord's whim). There is a London Rental Standard in place, but as it's voluntary it's only as good as your landlord. The Assembly wants the Mayor to work towards making measures like these compulsory.
The motion was called a "pre-election gimmick by the Labour party" by Conservative Assembly Member James Cleverly — just after admitting he's a landlord himself (who hasn't put the rent up in four years; but neither is he a member of an accreditation scheme). Cleverly accused Labour of going after private renters' votes and cited one of the most often heard arguments against 'rent controls', that it would reduce supply and increase prices as landlords frontload rents.
In a way he's right; London has far too many bad, irresponsible landlords who would likely take advantage of any loopholes in regulation to screw tenants. But that's not an excuse for doing nothing; not when rents are shooting up and too many Londoners are at the mercy of landlords for the roof over their head. What we think London needs is a radical shake-up of the housing market: fewer landlords who think it's fine to charge maximum housing benefit for box rooms and more large scale, institutional landlords like councils, housing associations and build to rent organisations. (We know these latter aren't always perfect, but on the whole they're a better option.) If rent controls and more protection for tenants encouraged the unscrupulous to sell up and get out — at the same time as institutional landlords were allowed in to fill the gaps — we say, all the better.
Sadly, this Assembly motion isn't binding on the Mayor, but hopefully it represents another step along the road for better conditions for private renters.