Friday, 7 March 2014

Cambridge City Councillor Calls For Fairer System For Privately Rented Homes

Cambridge City Council Deputy Leader, Catherine Smart warns spiralling house prices and rents could block the city’s economy as she calls for a fairer system for privately rented homes.

With house prices 12 times the average salary she claims the city is near breaking point as more and more people struggle to get a home of their own.

And the country needs a fairer system which offers protection both to landlords and tenants as the demand for private rented property continues to rise.

Cllr Smart, Executive Councillor for Housing will address issues arising from the huge rise fuelled by the lack of social housing nationally and unobtainable mortgages when she joins a panel at the Liberal Democrat’s Spring Conference tomorrow (Saturday).

She will share the platform with Local Government Minister, Stephen Williams to discuss how tenants are treated in the private sector and what more needs to be done.

“The private rented sector is growing after half a century of decline and many more people are living in privately rented properties for much longer,” she says.

“This is due to a number of factors including the fact that the social rented sector declined under the Labour government and people are finding it difficult to get mortgages to buy their own homes.

“Prices in parts of the country including Cambridge are rising and making it extremely difficult. House prices in Cambridge are 12 times the average salary while at the same time, prices and rents are rising and we are near breaking point when housing problems will become a block on the economy.”

The conference fringe meeting in York, entitled “Private Sector Tenants: one in six deserve a better deal”, will also include on the panel Alex Hilton from the National Private Tenants organisation and Duncan Stott from Priced Out, the campaign group for affordable housing. It will be chaired by Cllr Claire Hudson from the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors.

Cllr Smart will tell delegates how Cambridge City Council’s Property Accreditation Scheme is designed to help landlords run a fair business and she will question whether the length of rental property leases is suitable in the present circumstances.

Cllr Smart says that magistrates should be able to order the repayment of rent when a rogue landlord has been convicted of illegally evicting a tenant. The Department of Communities and Local Government is consulting on this issue at the moment.

And she will raise the problems Cambridge faces under the Local Housing Allowance – formally housing benefit - for privately renting tenants.

The benefit for tenants in the city is calculated over a wide area taking in cheaper places such as Littleport and Haverhill and only covers about three per cent of rents in Cambridge. This leaves people on low wages priced out of the city.

She says: “The majority of landlords are doing a good job and I don’t agree with Labour members in Cambridge that all properties should be licensed. This would mean we would have to charge a fee to inspect all properties and employ more people which would lead to rents going higher.

“We need to look at making it easier for permanent tenants and families and landlords renting to them. Assured short-hold leases are fine for students but we need longer, more permanent leases for others with regular, perhaps annual rent reviews.

“We are facing a huge demand for long-term privately rented properties and we have to address the challenges that brings. It is important that we have a fair system that works for both landlord and tenant.”