Rent controls and the voice of reason

The fearsome prospect of rent controls is being raised. Nigel Lewis says the Government should stop now and listen to an MP who knows the score – Kevin Hollinrake.

Kevin Hollinrake image

Last month, former estate agent and Hunters founder Kevin Hollinrake stood up in Parliament to warn fellow MPs about the dangers of rent controls. Recounting his time working in York as an agent during the 1980s, before Hunters became the behemoth it is today, Hollinrake remembered not-so fondly how the limits on how much and how often landlords could increase rents damaged the local private rented sector.

During the debate fellow, but Labour, MPs (Hollinrake is Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton) shook their heads in disagreement.

The point I’d make is that we are living in an age of ideology where common sense and practicality are swept aside in a race for votes.

Luckily, Hollinrake spotted this and berated them for their lack of understanding or operational experience of rent controls. The point I would like to make here and one that Hollinrake would probably make too, is that we are living in an age of ideology where common sense and practicality are swept aside in the race for votes.

Caps and freezes

Rent controls which include caps and freezes – the latter of which Scotland is due to bring in – have until now remained the rallying call of the fringe left, beloved of scruffy students.

But the pressures of an under-supplied private rental property market, an ongoing policy (all over the UK) of reduced social housing provision and more recently the English government’s desire to purge small landlords from the sector, means rent controls are now becoming mainstream. Even leading Conservatives have been recommending them including in September this year Natalie Elphicke MP who launched a campaign via the Renters Reform Coalition calling for the measure.

Home of the landlord?

Cynics reading this might surmise that Elphicke, and her pro-tenant, anti-landlord friends within Parliament, are following this line for political gain. The Conservative Party was once the home of the landlord but no longer. The party’s desire to appeal to ‘red wall’ voters, many of whom are tenants but also frustrated homeowners, means being pro-landlord will not wash.

This is why Generation Rent and Shelter now hold so much sway in Whitehall – Tory ministers and policy makers have needed comrades-in-arms in their new war on private landlords and, I’m afraid to say, the letting agents who help them manage their properties.

But both Propertymark, the National Residential Landlords Association and many other relatively level heads within housing sector, including Hollinrake, have warned the Government, Labour and the many lobbying groups that although it looks good on placards, limiting how much landlords can charge is a blunt policy instrument.

Renters’ Reform Bill

The Renters’ Reform Bill already contains rent reform, possibly of the most sensible kind – namely that landlords will only be able to raise rents once a year for sitting tenants and/or between people moving in and out.

Ministers have also pointed out that Property Tribunals, which are clunky and little-used by tenants even if they’ve heard of them, may be streamlined and made more accessible to enable tenants to fight unfair rent rises.

The ‘property portal’ being proposed by the Government would also bring transparency to this process and may, if the mood music is to be believed, contain details of previous rents charged and any hikes or rent rise disputes during previous tenancies.

But Hollinrake is right when he said that more draconian rent controls in England would only strangle investment in the sector from private and corporate entities alike. Given he was a vocal supporter of Rishi Sunak and also a political neighbour constituency-wise, hopefully the Prime Minister will be listening.

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