Many local people have written to me with concerns about the quality of their rented homes. As a mother of two young children, I am particularly concerned with the rise in number of problems with mould and damp families experience. With the average price of a Tooting home over £700,000, raising the standard of rented accommodation is very important.
My guest blogger, Councillor Simon Hogg, shares his thoughts on how to improve the quality of rented accommodation:
I was shocked - but had to admire my landlord’s cunning. I’d asked for double-glazing, as my bed was next to a freezing window on Balham High Road. He simply stretched clingfilm over the window and declared it “DIY double-glazing”.
Like many people in Tooting, I’ve got plenty of stories from my twenties of dodgy rented properties. Around 40% of households in Tooting now rent their homes from a private landlord.
Rosena listens to local people. A quarter of all emails and letters she gets are from people seeking help with housing problems.
We've worked together to push Wandsworth council to focus on this issue. Sadly, the council is not working hard enough to get a fair deal for renters.
For some people, renting is a positive choice. But far too many people have no other option. A council survey found the majority of renters want to buy but believed they would never be able to in our borough. Renters are getting squeezed further by the day. The cost of rent often takes up half of people’s income.
Anna, a teacher, pays £720 a month to share with 5 others in Balham. She says: “I pay more than half my salary on rent. I just don’t have a chance to save any money”. Chelsea in her twenties, pays £700 a month rent for a flat-share in Clapham. “I spend so much on rent I feel as if I am living in poverty.”
We need improved conditions for renters. Unfortunately, robust action on rogue landlords is not taken. The Wandsworth Labour Group asked the council how many times they had prosecuted a landlord for providing unsafe accommodation in last year. The answer was zero.
This lack of action was shown most recently in the Investing Solutions scandal. This is the Wandsworth-based letting agency that took £5.5million in housing benefit from a charity which housed the homeless. £2.1m of that was paid by Wandsworth council. Crisis, the housing charity, described the arrangement as “a new low”.
Several of their properties – used to house vulnerable people – were unsuitable, due to lack of heating and hot water, rats and damp. The BBC reports the company earned £11,568 profit per year from one property alone.The council said no further investigation is required because it’s not illegal. Well, it may not be illegal – but it’s wrong.
Private renting is insecure, as well as expensive. Zeeshan, in Wallis Close, was paying three times the rent to a private landlord as the council tenant pays next door. This was actually 5 years ago. He asked me about homeownership schemes “I want a home for my family so I can have peace of mind”. He had a child. Then his rent went up, he started working two jobs.
A couple of years ago I was watching cricket at his house when he said he’d received an eviction notice from his landlord. His wife was pregnant again. Wandsworth council accepted him as homeless. Last year the council placed him in temporary accommodation in Thornton Heath, 5 miles away. “It takes around one and a half hour to drop children at school in the morning.” It’s taking a dreadful toll on his wife and children.
Recently – as its one and only offer– the council showed him a private rented property out in Croydon. Even further from his life. Zeeshan was just a regular suburban dad – and there are hundreds of others like him. People who work hard and play by the rules are leaving the area.
If we don’t give a fair deal to renters, we feed the homelessness crisis. 1,300 local families spent last night homeless in Wandsworth council temporary accommodation. The number one cause of homelessness in our borough is now the private rented sector.
We should stand up for renters. Listen to their experiences and support them.
As a first step, a Labour council would improve inspections, offer help with tenancy deposits, introduce licensing for landlords and encourage longer contracts for families.
Longer-term, we need to tackle our homelessness crisis and build more genuinely affordable homes.