Renters want rent control – and it’s not just about the money

Renters want rent control – and it’s not just about the money

There’s no doubt that private renters are being hit hard by the housing emergency. With rents on the rise and the prospect of eviction hanging over our heads, it’s no surprise there’s an appetite for something to be done. Are rent controls the answer? What do renters themselves think?

A new study by the Fabian Society gives an insight into what renters think about when we talk about controlling rents – and it isn’t necessarily what you’d think.

The study, produced in partnership with Shelter, shows that feelings of insecurity and powerlessness are driving private renters’ instinctive support for rent control, as well as high rents. With private renters struggling with a deregulated, unreformed market, it’s time for Westminster to take note.

The report finds that:

  • renters want a fairer renting system, not simply a cheaper one
  • politicians have much to gain from supporting sensible rent control
  • renters know that rent control alone will not solve the housing crisis

It’s not all about the cost

The Fabians spoke to groups of renters across the country and presented them with three types of rent control. These ranged from limiting how much landlords can raise the rent within a tenancy all the way to requiring landlords to charge much lower rents than they currently do.

Beyond Affordability finds that renters were much less supportive of measures to cut rents compared to more moderate measures that make sure rents are set at a level fair to both landlord and tenant. Their priority is to make the system just.

The renters the Fabians spoke to were deeply concerned about the impact of rent controls on the private rented market, and generally preferred a model of rent control which would make rent reasonable for tenants but still ensure that landlords can make a fair living.

While renters need and want more predictable and affordable rents, rent controls are also a means of addressing the power imbalance between renters and their landlords.

Politicians should take note

Political attention has turned to rent control in recent months, most notably due to the Mayor of London’s report on introducing rent controls in the capital. The Fabian research shows that politicians will find a receptive audience when they talk about rent controls, but they need to have thought through the detail and come up with a plan that does not inadvertently harm private renters. And as the report finds, politicians must listen to renters themselves.

The renters in the research expressed their scepticism that Westminster would introduce reforms that would benefit renters, and even if they did, they doubted whether they’d be effective.

We know that renters are an expanding and increasingly politically powerful group. The 2017 General Election saw the turnout among private renters jump by a whopping 8% – more than any other tenure. Decades of failure to regulate the private rented sector have left renters short-changed, vulnerable to unfair rent increases and unable to challenge them for fear of eviction. The last election showed that private renters have had enough – and will make sure they’re heard at the ballot box.

Measures to improve the security and affordability of private renting will be essential for any political party wanting the votes of private renters.

Renters know rent control is no silver bullet

Today’s research shows that renters know rent controls are not a magic cure to the housing emergency, and that any rent control needs to be part of a wider package of reform. The renters the Fabians spoke to were concerned about deposits being a barrier to finding private rented accommodation. Finding large sums of money combined with the often long delays in landlords returning a deposit can make it difficult and stressful for renters to move when they have to.

Renters were also reticent at the idea of making the private rented sector pick up the slack of successive governments failure to build social housing. They see a fair and healthy private rented sector as going hand in hand with an increased supply of social rent homes.

And we agree: renters need rents they can afford and the stability to know they can stay in their homes. The best way to do this is to invest in social housing. Our call for three million more social homes is the best way to ensure that people can live in genuinely affordable homes with the security they need to put down roots.