Bristol campaigners’ fight for fair rents

Published: by Guest blog

This guest blog was written by members of the Bristol Fair Renting campaign, who are a group of renters fighting to improve renting in their city.

Why our campaign exists

Our group of renters came together because we have all been personally affected by the broken renting system in Bristol. Some of our negative experiences include:

  • being forced out of the city due to unaffordable rents and landlords refusing to rent to us because we received benefits
  • only being able to afford to live in shared houses for the long-term
  • settling for renting a room with no windows because the other options were just too expensive
  • being forced out of our homes due to rent hikes and retaliatory evictions – one of our members had their rent increased from £650 to £950 within three months of moving in and they have had to move house three times this year

To fight for a fair renting system, and tackle these issues, we have created a manifesto. It demands that our city’s political leaders take action to fix private renting and reduce spiralling rents. 

The cost of renting in Bristol has become out of control. Rents have risen by 64% over the last decade – twice as fast as local wages. The average rent for a two-bed property costs nearly half an average local wage. And a lot of renters have told us they are having to spend even more than this on rent.

Unaffordable private rents are driving poverty, inequality, and social segregation. Bristol renters need urgent change now. 

Shows a campaigner speaking to Bristol City Council about making rents fair

Fair Renting campaigner Jen calling on the council to take action to make rents fair

Bristol wants and needs rent control

Following the Mayor’s commitment in 2021 to make Bristol a Living Rent City, the Bristol Living Rent Commission was formed last summer. Our campaign was invited to be a member. This was so we could represent local renters and help gather evidence to show the situation for renters now, and if, and how, this has changed in recent years.

The experiences renters shared with the Commission were bleak and expose the severity of the situation. The results showed that of the renters who responded:

  • 40% had experienced a rent increase in the last year, 19% had two increases, and 16% had three or more

  • Half had to pay rent in advance, separate from any deposit, to secure a property

  • over a quarter had to compete with other tenants and paid more than the advertised rent to secure a tenancy

A 2022 YouGov poll revealed that two in three people in Britain (67%) support rent caps. The Commission’s research proves even greater local support, with 81% of Bristol residents supporting rent controls.

The case for regulating rents is clear – it will help make sure that everyone in Bristol has somewhere affordable to live. And the city will also benefit when tenancies are more stable, quality of life is better, and homelessness is reduced.

We are pleased that our campaign has influenced the Commission’s recommendations. These now call on the council to: explore a range of rent control policy designs with the community; and consider whether lobbying for a rent freeze as a short-term crisis measure is an option.

But action is long overdue. 

Bristol renters urgently need the mayor and council to lobby the government for powers to introduce a short-term rent freeze. The council must also prioritise working with our communities to find a rent regulation model which will make sure that all, not just some, of our communities are able to live here and thrive.

Bristol renters sharing how rent increases are affecting them.

Our demands

There are many ways to design a rent control system. The New Economics Foundation has come up with a stepped, gradual approach to introducing rent controls, which we support and think could work in Bristol. This addresses the need to tackle current rent levels and unreasonable rent increases by reducing rents over a set period, and then regulating rent increases annually. We also think an immediate rent freeze is needed as a first, urgent action.

These are our three key steps to getting rents in Bristol under control:

Stage one: freeze rents now

We call on Mayor Marvin Rees to work with other city region mayors to lobby the government to devolve powers so that they can bring in an immediate rent freeze. We need this as a temporary, emergency intervention. It will make sure people can stay in their homes and prevent rents from spiralling further out of control while a long-term solution is developed.

While rents are frozen, the council should:

  • lobby government to put in place measures which are needed for rent controls to work. This includes making sure that section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions are scrapped and requiring all landlords to register themselves on the new property portal, which will be introduced when the Renters Reform Bill becomes law. This portal could be used to record and monitor rents
  • collect data on renters’ incomes in Bristol, as this data is needed to understand what a truly fair rent for Bristol is
Stage two: slow down rent increases

A strong system of rent control needs to bring rents and wages back in line with each other. This could involve limiting the amount rents can increase annually as a proportion of local renters’ wages increases. This would mean that wages would increase at a faster rate than rents and so, over time, wages would catch up with rents. 

Stage three: keep rents in line with local wages

Once rent and wage increases are in line with each other, yearly rental increases should be limited to the average renters’ wage increases locally. The council should review this each year to set the maximum increase and make sure that this strategy is genuinely keeping rents and wages in line. These controls should apply both within, and between, tenancies to avoid rent hikes when a tenant moves out and to remove any incentive for a landlord to evict a tenant in order to increase the rent. 

Do you agree that Bristol rents are out of control and do you need things to change? 

Join us in demanding that our city’s political leaders take urgent action to make rents fair: sign the Bristol Fair Renting Manifesto