By Isaac Rose (@_isaacrose)
Today Labour announced their demands of the government to tackle the looming crisis facing renters. Some are welcome. Scrapping section 21, extending the current evictions ban for the duration of the crisis, and giving residential tenants the same protections as commercial tenants — all of these are good policies that meet our demands.
Yet their proposal around rent arrears is woefully inadequate. It represents a cowardly capitulation to the landlord lobby by the Labour leadership. Far from ‘having the back’ of renters as their announcement on Twitter claims, they are selling them out.
Labour are asking ministers to grant renters at least two years to pay back any arrears accrued during this period. So, imagine a renter who, because of lost income during the crisis, has missed two months rent. Taking the average UK rent, that would mean they had accrued a debt of £1,772. Paid off over a period of two years, this would mean an increase of £74 on the monthly rental bill—an increase of 8%. If they miss three months, that increase in payments rises £110 per month, or an increase of 12.5%.
Many renters can only just afford to make ends meet, and adding these rent-repayments would make their situation impossible. What’s more, given the prevalence of short-term lets, this will in many cases lead to a situation where renters are paying off debt to a landlord whose property they no longer live in.
All this, to protect the pocket of the most unproductive class in Britain today. Landlords contribute nothing to society, solely extracting wealth via the owning of an asset — wealth that’s generated through the work of their tenants. They don’t even provide people with a decent place to live, with properties frequently run down, mouldy and cold. Yet, unlike other sectors of society such as workers and small businesses, landlords are expecting to come out of this crisis with their wealth not only intact, but increased. Currently, landlords are receiving a double subsidy — with a freeze on mortgage repayments protecting their outgoings, and mandatory rent repayment protecting their income.
There is another way. The government should pass legislation to cancel the rent in the private rented sector, for the duration of the crisis. For the duration that landlords could access a mortgage freeze, renters would be under no obligation to pay rent, and would not be evicted for missing rent payments. Any debt accrued would be wiped off. Landlords would shoulder the burden, and take a hit like the rest of us. For the cases where landlords relied on their rental income to survive, we would propose a means testing system. Those landlords would be eligible for government support; while others who just own property to increase their bottom line, would not.
Labour should be full throated in its demand to cancel the rent. Renters are going through a time of great difficulty, with many experiencing loss of income. The looming cliff edge when Section 21 is unsuspended will unleash a tsunami of evictions, and many are scared. They’re looking for a voice to advance their interests — in a country where the entire political system is captured by the landlord lobby, and where almost 1 in 5 MPs in Parliament are landlords themselves.
Under Corbyn, Labour was this voice. Yet under the new leadership, the party has backpedalled. It’s time they found some courage, faced down the landlord lobby and stood up for their voters.
Isaac Rose is a coordinator at GMHA.
9 May 2020