Its “commandments” include protection of tenants’ deposits and a promise that all emergency repairs will be tackled within 24 hours, with less urgent repairs resolved within three working days. Landlords and agents must behave professionally and respectfully towards their tenants, and make all fees and costs clear upfront.
“We really want to boost the professionalisation of the sector,” says Richard Blakeway, deputy mayor for housing and land. The charter will be backed up by a year of Greater London Authority-funded advertising. An online database will be launched early next year for tenants to check whether a landlord has signed up to the code.
Blakeway hopes that 100,000 landlords and agents will join by 2016, out of an estimated total of 250,000-300,000. However, the scheme will not be compulsory. Only the Government could introduce statutory licensing, and it has consistently declined to do so.
THE 12-STEP LONDON RENTAL STANDARD:
1. Offer clear, written tenancy agreements.
2. Protect deposits and be upfront about fees.
3. Provide contact details to renters.
4. Respond to tenant queries promptly.
5. Give at least 24 hours’ notice, in writing, before visiting.
6. Emergency repairs must be dealt with immediately.
7. Minor repairs must be dealt with in three working days.
8. Keep your rental property in good condition.
9. Rental properties must be energy efficient to keep bills down.
10. When a tenant leaves, return deposits in full - minus verified costs.
11. Complaints must be dealt with promptly.
12. Always act in a “fair, reasonable and professional” manner.
A GOOD START
Tim Hyatt, head of lettings at Knight Frank and a former president of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, feels the code is a “good start” but should be compulsory. “I think we owe it to the consumer to give them a level of protection,” he says.
Blakeway says local councils should track down rogue landlords, but Richard Lambert, chief executive of the National Landlords Association, says many are not in a position to act. “Local authorities do not have the enforcement resources they need, and there is not enough emphasis on enforcement,” he warns. “Partly, this is the responsibility of government because it controls councils’ funding.”
Katharine Sacks-Jones, head of policy and campaigns at housing charity Crisis, says any move to help renters is welcome, but agrees the scheme should be compulsory and strictly enforced.
In London in particular, the shortage of stock means few renters can afford to be picky. “Many areas are unaffordable and there is fierce competition,” says Sacks-Jones. “Being in a position to choose a landlord who is in an accreditation scheme is likely to come lower down the priority list than cost and location.”
In a bid to reduce the housing demand-supply imbalance, the Mayor has set a target of building 5,000 long-term rental homes a year, the first time there has been such a target. However, a recent report by Savills found London needs 36,500 new rented and affordable homes a year to meet demand.
Built to rent: new homes at East Village in Stratford are for let only, with tenancies of up to three years available
To achieve its target, the GLA is encouraging “build to rent” developments. The most obvious example is East Village, the former Athletes’ Village in Stratford, where tenants can sign up for up to three years, giving them stability.
There are no agency fees and the developer promises high standards of maintenance and management, as well as rent rises linked to the Consumer Price Index. However, two-bedroom flats are from £395 a week, whereas two-bedroom flats elsewhere in Stratford start at a more manageable £250.
Major build to let projects are planned at Barking and Elephant and Castle.
The Mayor is also forging partnerships to create homes on GLA-owned surplus land, which will mean a series of developments across Newham and at Pontoon Dock, while a new London Housing Bank will lend developers up to £200 million to speed the building of 3,000 homes on schemes with planning permission. They would be let at below-market rents for 10 years before being sold to repay City Hall.
Mr Johnson has no plans to try to control rents on these homes. Indeed, Blakeway doesn’t feel private rents in London are going up particularly fast. He says they have risen by a below-inflation 11 per cent since 2007, while in Berlin, which does have rent controls, they have risen 35 per cent.
He fears rent controls, a flagship proposal of Labour, would reduce the number of available homes, and hopes that if there are more available, competition will ease and rent levels cool.
Blakeway does not pretend the problems of Generation Rent can be solved overnight, but believes a good start has been made. “Renting is not a young person’s experience any more,” he said. “Some 29 per cent of renters have got children. There has been huge demand in the last few years because people who would ordinarily have bought are renting. For too long [the private rented sector] was ignored by policy makers. Now it is very much on the agenda.”