Rent controls now to end ‘rent gouging’

by Oscar Parry, South West London Socialist Party

Over the past few months average rents have exploded in price. Combined with skyrocketing energy bills and food prices, many tenants are struggling to make ends meet. Prices in 48 council areas are now classed by the Office for National Statistics as unaffordable when compared with average wages.

Housing protest
Photo: Ollie Auvache

Asking rents on new listings are up by almost a third since 2019, and some people are facing increases of up to 60%. The London Renters Union said its members had reported average rent increases of almost £3,400 a year (21%), which it described as “rent gouging”.

My own experience of trying to find a flat in London was constant calls with estate agents, checking sites like Zoopla and Rightmove daily, and attending viewings every week. Each viewing had 20 or more people trying to rent the same flat, forcing tenants into competition with each other.

Faced with a chronic housing shortage, profit-driven estate agents are now organising a bidding system, where prospective tenants are forced to try and outdo each other’s offers to secure accommodation. This means that prices are inflated way over the original asking price, forcing working people out of certain areas and into mouldy and damp properties.

‘No-fault’ evictions

There are growing calls to finally ban ‘no-fault’ evictions, used by landlords seeking to raise rents, which the government has been pledging to do so since April 2019.

The Scottish government announced a temporary, limited rent freeze in September, describing the pressure on household budgets as a “humanitarian emergency”. Tenants in London and Manchester, many of them organised in renters’ unions, protested this weekend to demand that the government freezes rents as an emergency measure.

However, this is only a partial solution. Freezing rents at unaffordable prices will leave many workers high and dry. We need a permanent reduction in rents to a level democratically determined by elected representatives from working-class communities and trade unions.

The UK government has resisted rent control, saying last month it would lead to “disinvestment in the sector”. France, with a similar population, is building twice as many homes at present as Britain. A mass council house building programme, employing thousands of workers on trade union rates of pay, would boost supply and provide good-quality affordable homes for all. Only by treating decent housing as a right available to all, and not an investment to maximise return on, can we resolve the housing crisis.