Editor’s comment: I welcome licensing of landlords

Grim conditions at a private rented home in Hackney. Picture: HACKNEY COUNCIL

Grim conditions at a private rented home in Hackney. Picture: HACKNEY COUNCIL - Credit: Hackney Council

Vishal Vora is right: the penalties in Hackney’s rogue landlord scheme are pretty harsh.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t had a nightmare experience at the hands of a private landlord.

The point isn’t actually to enact the penalties but to encourage people to do the right thing so they don’t get punished at all.

The surge in private renting is the flip side of the bottom falling out of social housing over the last 30 or 40 years. At the end of 2017, Inside Housing magazine revealed that at least 40 per cent of homes sold under Right to Buy were now in the hands of private landlords.

And with that have come, in many cases, spiralling, unpredictable rents, unstable and even illegal tenancies, and very little anyone can do if their toilet breaks and their ceiling collapses.

Sure, these things happen in council properties too, and a cash-strapped local authority at times seems hopelessly underequipped to deal with them, especially when they are endemic – hence, perhaps, the decision to offload so much stock onto housing associations. But there is an ombudsman; there are complaints procedures; there are standing orders; and the rent is very unlikely to double overnight in a council house.

From my experience, the rot sets in with private renting when relationships between landlords and tenants are obscured by economies of scale: by landlords having not one house that their parents died in to let out, but an entire portfolio; when estate agents are the exclusive intermediaries between the two, making conversations longer, costlier and more fractious.

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If you have more property than you can look after without hiring a business whose purpose is to extract more money from the financially precarious, you probably own too many houses. The council being willing to fight their corner is no bad thing.