Labour calls for regulation of private landlords and letting agents

Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for the national regulation of private landlords and letting agents.

He wants to see a national register of landlords, while he wants agents to be transparent and upfront about their ‘confusing’ fees.

In a speech to the Fabian Society, Miliband said: “We cannot have two nations divided between those who own their own homes and those who rent.
“Most people who rent have responsible landlords and rental agencies. But there are too many rogue landlords and agencies either providing accommodation which is unfit or ripping off their tenants.

“And too many families face the doubt of a two-month notice period before being evicted.

“Imagine being a parent with kids settled in a local school and your family settled in your home for two, three, four years, facing that sort of uncertainty.”

Miliband said the private rented sector is now bigger than the social rented sector for the first time in almost 50 years.

In total, 3.6 million households – including one million with children – privately rent, “often in accommodation deemed well below standard”.

Miliband said: “We would introduce a national register of landlords and greater powers for local authorities to root out and strike off the rogues.

“We would end the confusing, inconsistent and opaque fees and charges regime, making fees easily understandable, upfront and comparable.

“And we will seek to remove the barriers that stand in the way of longer-term tenancies.”

Miliband’s speech came as Baroness Hayter tabled a proposal in the Lords that would make letting agents as accountable as estate agents in the eyes of the law.

The Labour party, while in government, was committed to the idea of regulating the private rented sector – although never actually doing anything about it. There was an apparent U-turn last year when shadow housing minister Jack Dromey rejected regulation.

Miliband’s ‘one nation’ speech does, however, appear to commit the Labour party to a manifesto promise for the next election.

But the Residential Landlords Association, while backing regulation of letting agents, rejected the proposed register of private landlords, saying it would be expensive and unworkable.

Chairman Alan Ward said: “When in office, Labour estimated the cost of a national register of landlords to be £300m and its own impact assessment described full licensing as onerous, difficult to enforce and costly.

“Imposing such a charge on the private rented sector would amount to a further tax on landlords and tenants when we need more homes, and people across the country are feeling squeezed.

“According to figures from Shelter, just 487 landlords in England were prosecuted last year – a figure that is remarkably low out of an estimated 1.2m landlords in total.

“This is despite there being 100 individual pieces of legislation and regulations containing around 400 individual measures affecting the sector.

“The problem is not a lack of powers, but the willingness and ability of local authorities to enforce their existing powers whilst under financial pressure.

“The RLA is calling on all parties to support local authorities to improve the skills available to environmental health officers to more swiftly bring prosecutions against the minority of criminal landlords who bring misery to tenants’ lives. Accreditation schemes would enable councils to better target those who operate under the radar.”

Ward added: “Whilst we support Ed Miliband’s calls for the regulation of lettings agents, which would be good for landlords and tenants alike, it is scaremongering to talk of families being kicked out with two months’ notice. A landlord would rather have a reliable tenant paying rent than face the costs of finding new tenants.”