The idea of rent control seems to be gaining in popularity, according to a new survey.
The national poll for Generation Rent (PDF) showed that 59% of the 1,009 people interviewed either strongly or somewhat supported rent control. Just 6.8% either strongly or somewhat opposed, with 34% having no opinion. Unsurprisingly, Londoners are even more in favour, with 64.5% thinking it's a good idea. Support isn't necessarily a sign of self interest either: across the country, over half the home owners surveyed were in favour — with 77% of private renters in favour. (What's perhaps more surprising is that there are 23% of private tenants who aren't. It's probably a lot less in the capital, but we don't have that breakdown.)
Why do Londoners like the sound of rent control? Just one look at spiralling costs can tell you that, as the market reacts to a ridiculous lack of supply for everyone who needs a place to live. Diane Abbott backed a form of control only last month. The primary drawback with rent control is that it's claimed introducing limits on how much landlords can charge would prompt many of them to sell up, which would reduce supply (the last thing we need).
The problem (OK, one of the problems) with the UK's rental market is that the vast majority of landlords own one, or maybe two, properties. It's practically an amateur industry. These small landlords don't have the economies of scale to absorb squeezes on how much they can whack the rent up by, so it would be tempting to sell. Of course, this could have upsides. Some of those renters might be able to afford to buy their own place, especially if a sudden glut of landlords selling up prompts a fall in house prices. And, frankly, some of the small landlords don't know what they're doing, and tenants would be better off without them and living somewhere run by a major, institutional landlord. We just need to build more of those rental-only, normally-priced blocks first. It's as if everything comes down to building more houses...