United Kingdom

Rent controls: When, where and how?

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Rent controls are on the political agenda again, but what policies could be enacted?

Last weekend, activists from tenant group ACORN took to the streets in six English cities to launch a “renters’ reform blueprint” on behalf of the Renters’ Reform Coalition (RRC, of which ACORN is a member) – and put pressure on politicians ahead of next month’s local elections. Alongside demanding the scrapping of Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions and the creation of a national landlord register, the group also calls on the government to act to reduce rents.

In their paper, ACORN sets out several options to make housing more affordable, such as basing LHA rates on local private rents, building more social housing, and introducing ‘rent stabilisation measures’ – but does not go into detail on how rents should be controlled.

Activists aren’t the only ones interested in restricting rents. Authorities in Scotland and London are trying to enact rent controls, while legislation to cap rent increases has also been voted on (but defeated) in the Welsh Senedd.

The Scottish Government’s A New Deal for Tenants consultation paper sets out a vision of affordable rents for high-quality housing. However, apart from a proposal to prevent rent adjudications that recommend bigger increases than originally proposed by the landlord, it’s light on policies. The paper promises a separate consultation on specific rent control measures in the future. Currently, the plan is to put rent controls in place by the end of 2025.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has proposed what may be the most concrete policy so far, but also the most limited: a two-year rent freeze. The Mayor has previously called for a private rent commission to control rents in the city, but unlike the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, he would require permission from Westminster to set one up.

The property industry is taking the issue of rent controls to heart. In Scotland, letting agents organised by ARLA Propertymark met with the country’s minister for tenants’ rights to express their opposition to rent controls. Meanwhile, the National Residential Landlords Association has published a white paper calling on the Welsh government not to go ahead with its proposed rent increase cap. Both groups of housing providers warned that rent controls would reduce much-needed investment in the private rented sector, and also pointed to a consensus among economists that they ultimately end up hurting tenants

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