London Assembly Housing and Regenerating Committee Consultation on Private Rented Sector
As London Councils and the London Assembly run another consultation on the private rented sector, LettingFocus’s owner starts to feel like Bill Murray in the film “Groundhog Day”
Many readers will be familiar with the film “Groundhog Day” in which a bored TV weatherman played by Bill Murray is forced to relive a freezing winter’s day in a nowheresville northern American town until he learns to be a better human being.
Each day he is woken up at he same time by the same radio station playing the Sonny and Cher song, “I Got You Babe”. He then gets soaked by the same car driving through the same puddle and he is forced to meet the same people each day. (I particularly like the annoying life insurance salesman who always tries to collar him as he crosses the road).
His day is interminably fixed until he decides to change his miserable ways.
As an expert in the private rented sector I feel a little like Bill Murray sometimes because each week brings another survey or announcement of a new consultation on the private rented sector. The pattern is the same – the report comes out, it usually gets some press at “The Guardian’s Housing Network” pages and “Inside Housing” – and if its by someone noted as being particularly “great and good” it may even get a little mention on the BBC’s Local News.
And then it’s all forgotten about.
London Councils Consultation on the Private Rented Sector
The London Assembly is doing one such consultation now. (In a Groundhog Day kind of way I’m a little baffled to see another survey when the ink has barely dried on the “Bleak Houses” report they recently did. But it all helps I guess. Readers interested in my views on “Bleak Houses” should follow the link at the bottom of this post).
For this latest consultation they say they are particularly interested “in what the mayor of London and individual boroughs should be doing to raise standards and improve quality across the private rented sector”.
Well, at LettingFocus.com we are able to help them because we did a survey in September 2012 of twelve local authorities looking at what information they make available at their websites.
It found that the quality and amount of information that local authorities make available to tenants and landlords in the private rented sector is lacking and urgently needs improving. We found an almost total lack of information on important issues such as letting agency fees charged to tenants and how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud by fake letting agents. Even advice for landlords letting large shared houses is sometimes missing – which is shocking because these “HMO” properties have a particularly high fire risk.
Our survey also found that only two councils out of twelve made any mention of letting fees at all in the information they provide for tenants. But even their advice was very limited.
Tenants and landlords in the private rented sector are often victims of fraud. Only two councils made any mention of this risk at all.
All landlords will know of the demanding standards for larger shared dwellings called Houses in Multiple Occupancy or HMOs, which are there for good reasons, including seeking to reduce the much higher risk of fire. But incredibly, two local authorities did not provide any information about HMOs at all.
We have shared some of our findings with the London Assembly consultation.
We didn’t get a response from them but a number of other publications did publish our findings.
Town Hall Blues
We challenge London Councils and all local authorities to “significantly up their game” with the information that they make available to private landlords and their tenants. It is simply not good enough that in a sector that is now so large, that such key information as this is so lacking. And it’s not fair to criticise private landlords if the help the town halls give them is not up to scratch.
But we think that until there is more expertise and understanding of the private rented sector at town halls at senior and middle management level and a willingness to engage outside the city halls, there is little reason to expect change.
Until that happens I’ll be having a lot more Bill Murray moments, I fear
If you are a landlord or tenant and want to contribute to the London Assembly Housing and Regenerating Committee consultation on the private rented sector you can submit your views by emailing [email protected]
You might even get a response.
Finally, a word on which tenancy deposit scheme you should use. We think landlords in England and Wales should use an “insurance based scheme” like MyDeposits. In these, you get to hold the deposit (unless there is a dispute) and, if you want, earn interest on it. In Scotland, as you would expect, there is no option to do this.
There will be more on deposits in our next blog in two weeks’ time. There will be no blog posted next week.
To see my comments on “Bleak Houses” – an earlier report by the London Assembly, click this link: “Bleak Houses”
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