What we are doing for Generation Rent: Clarence Mitchell, Conservative, Brighton Pavilion

I recently wrote to the representatives of the main political parties in Brighton and Hove regarding Generation Rent, asking what they and their political parties would be offering renters after 2015 on issues including high rents, insecure tenancies, and poor practice by some landlords and, in particular, letting agencies. I am posting all responses received, in the order I have received them. Today, the response from Clarence Mitchell, Conservative candidate, Brighton Pavilion

Given Brighton’s above average number of renters, we are only too well aware of the problems that people can face, not least high rents, insecure tenancies and those rogue landlords and agents who can make a tenant’s life a misery.

That is why the Conservatives are acting to rectify the central cause of high rents – the lack of supply of new housing – by supporting the long-term building of thousands of affordable homes for hard-working people to rent and, in the shorter term, through the introduction of a much clearer definition of tenants’ rights and their options for redress and compensation if, unfortunately, things do go wrong.

Our political opponents claim the re-introduction of a limited form of rent control would solve the problems. We believe it wouldn’t. Rent controls have failed in the past by actually reducing the UK’s private rented housing stock and they would again. Such controls, in fact, resulted in the private rented sector shrinking from 55% of households in 1939 to just 8% in the late 1980s. Rent controls also meant that many landlords couldn’t afford to improve or maintain their homes.

So we are not only opposed to such State intervention in the market in principle but also in practice because we believe it would lead to the opposite effect with landlords simply walking away and choosing not to rent their properties, leading to fewer rental homes on the market, only the poorest quality accommodation being left available and ultimately higher rents then being imposed – hurting those renters who most need help.

To address the lack of supply, nationally, we are now building more homes to rent, so that people can find an affordable home in which to live. We are delivering up to 10,000 new affordable homes to rent through the £1 billion Build to Rent fund and are also offering up to £10 billion in debt guarantees to kick-start developments of rented housing. As a result of the Government’s housing policies, housing supply is now at its highest level since 2008 with some 420,000 new homes being built over the last three years alone.

Locally, too, we are also concerned about the potential “bombshell” that rising student numbers will have on Brighton’s rental market in the future. Sussex University, for example, will be expanding by some 5,000 students over the next 4-5 years and we are concerned that not enough purpose built-student accommodation is going to be constructed to house them – only around 2,000 on-campus units are planned and, in any case, most students only live on campus in their first year.

This increase in student numbers is likely to put incredible pressure on the city’s private rented sector and will, no doubt, push rents up higher still. Brighton & Hove City Council should, arguably, be putting much more pressure on the city’s Universities to do something about it now. A Conservative-controlled Council from next year would work closely with the Universities to find early solutions to this looming problem.

To tackle that small minority of rogue landlords who blatantly exploit tenants and the rental sector, we fully support enforcing the laws that already exist to stamp out poor practice, through the prosecution of such landlords, through a much more proactive property inspection regime to ensure the quality of accommodation is appropriate and acceptable and through sending clear messages to other landlords that such abuses of tenants will not be tolerated.

To assist tenants to gain further security over their tenancies, the Government is also now helping those renters who want a longer tenancy to agree one with their landlord. Landlords can already, in fact, agree such tenancies now, but many tenants like the flexibility that the private sector provides and we don’t want to see this undermined either.

In terms of helping renters resolve problems if things do go wrong, from this year the Government is ensuring that all letting agents and property management companies will be required to join an approved, compulsory redress scheme which will make sure that tenants have proper access to redress for their complaints, such as any lack of transparency around the fees and charges they face.

Finally, the Government is also introducing the Tenants’ Charter, setting out the rights that tenants have and the ways they can take action if problems do arise. A new code of practice for the management of private rental sector property will also help tenants feel more confident that the Conservatives are firmly on their side in standing up to – and overcoming – the bad behaviour of that small minority of rogue landlords and agents.

Ultimately, however, the only way to raise hardworking people’s living standards overall is to continue to grow the economy, cut taxes, create jobs and build more housing for both rent and ownership. The Conservatives have a long-term economic plan that is already delivering these tangible results, but there is a lot more still to do.

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