Islington MP introduces tenants’ rights bill

Image: Alex Wynick
Image: Alex Wynick
Image: Alex Wynick

Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a new law in Parliament, saying it is “high time” that the government help residents in private rented accommodation.

The Regulation of the Private Rented Sector Bill, introduced last week by Mr Corbyn, aims to regulate landlords and letting agencies so that tenants can get fairer rents and have more protection by law against eviction and discrimination.

Lack of rights

Mr Corbyn said: “People living in private rented accommodation pay a great deal for insecure and often badly maintained accommodation, and have very few rights.

“The bill aims to regulate letting agents, enforce environmental standards, end discrimination against people on state benefits who often get refused application rights to private rented property and then bring in a system of local fair rents.

“And in return the landlords would get the security of long-term income from the tenant and probably lower insurance costs because their properties would have to comply with basic standards.”

Private rental increase

In 2011, 17 per cent of the country lived in private rented accommodation, with a figure of 30 per cent of residents in Islington. This is set to increase dramatically, with a quarter of the country privately renting by 2015.

An anonymous resident who is involved with Islington Private Tenants, a  group which campaigns for tenants’ rights in the private rental sector, contacted Islington Now about her situation.

Since moving to London six years ago, she has experienced poor housing and abuse at the hands of letting agencies: “One place I moved into there was a broken washing machine and it was full of black mould. Not only didn’t it run, it was a health hazard. It took them three weeks to fix that, and because we were in contact with them they started punishing us.

“We had inspections – they’d never inspected that property before – just because we were engaging with them. And the message was to back off and to let them continue not doing their job properly. They bullied us.”

The resident then moved into a property, owned by David Andrew Estates, in Finsbury Park in Islington. “When we moved in we found broken furniture, they’d never cleaned up after the people who lived there before – I mean, there were pizza boxes on the floor – it was disgusting in there. It took us days to clean up after these last tenants.”

Eviction threat

When they informed David Andrews that they had replaced the broken furniture, they were threatened with litigation and eviction. “These are poorly maintained properties and they treat the tenant like a criminal,”she said.

While now happy with her current landlord elsewhere in Islington, she said that her poor experiences with letting agencies have damaged her personal life: “My divorce papers are due in any day.

“The problems that we had with our tenancies contributed so much to the stress in our relationship that we split shortly after. Our marriage could not survive. It’s disappointing that something so basic as housing can’t just be taken for granted so you can just go about your life.”

Asked to comment on these complaints, David Brett, director at David Andrew Estates, apologised for the poor treatment that she had received.

He denied that reducing rents was necessary: “Rents are high due to supply and demand and are therefore driven by market force  like most things that we buy. We are not the cheapest in the industry but neither are we the most expensive.”

Speaking in Parliament last week, Mr Corbyn criticised the housing benefit cap, saying that it did not match the high rents in Islington: “Residents cannot afford to pay the difference between their benefits and the rent charged. Constituents come to me who have a difference of £100 and more between their benefit level and the rent level, which can be stupendous.”

Sector regulation

He told Islington Now that regulating the private rental sector will have long-term benefits for Islington: “It’s not that difficult, it’s not rocket science.

“Germany manages a very well-regulated private rented sector with longer tenancies and security and therefore greater community cohesion. For some wards in Islington there’s a quarter of the population moving in and out every year and that doesn’t do much for community cohesion.”

The Bill has gained support from Liberal Democrat and Green MPs. Liberal Democrat MP David Ward said: “I receive many complaints from local residents about rogue landlords and the quality of accommodation that they are renting.
“These problems affect hundreds of people who are often in vulnerable circumstances and more must be done to ensure that people can live in safe, clean and reasonably priced housing.”

The Bill is scheduled to move on to the next stage in Parliament on 26 April 2013. Mr Corbyn does not expect the Bill to pass through parliament saying: “It’s a big ‘if’ that it gets passed, because 10 Minute Rule Bills very seldom get passed,” but added: “It means the issue gets an airing, and it also encourages parties to talk about legislation of the private rented sector.”

Correction: we previously identified the anonymous resident who spoke to Islington Now. She had originally agreed to be identified but has since contacted us to say she fears losing her home. We have decided to remove her name from the article.