Lord Greaves on Private Sector Housing in House of Lords Debate
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Here’s what I said in the House of Lords on 1st March on a group of proposals including extending the length of shorthold tenancies during day 2 of the Committee on the rather dreadful Housing and Planning Bill:
My Lords, I want to put this problem in a slightly wider context. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that the present system of short tenancies was bad for tenants, bad for landlords and bad for housing. It is also bad for the local community. There are areas in the north of England of cheap, mainly terraced, housing and former council estates.
The houses are cheap—as I will explain later—the rents are cheap, and keeping them in a decent condition is a constant struggle for owners, for the council and for people living in them. The result of the system is that there is a high churn—that is the technical word—of tenants. Many people live in a house for only a short period. That is clearly linked to the system of tenancies.
More than 10 years ago, I was chair of the governors of the local primary school. One problem the school had was the children who were living in that kind of property. It is a traditional area of working class owner -occupation. Some 50 or 100 years ago, people bought the houses from the mills that they worked for. When I first knew the area, owner-occupation was 80% or more, but private landlords have moved in very significantly and taken over many of the properties: one-third or more in the period I am talking about. Two-thirds of the children in the school spent most of their primary education there. In that respect, it was a very stable school: children went into the nursery or infants at the age of three or four and left at 11 when they went to secondary school. However, one-third of the children turned over every year. Every year, one-third of the children in each class were new and did not stay long enough to settle, to get a proper education and have the stability of being in the same school for some time.
That is just one example. When I first knew it 40 years ago, this was a pretty stable working class community of extended families. People who bought houses there as young couples had their parents living in the next street and their grandparents round the corner or in the sheltered housing just down the road. That has been broken down. There are lots of reasons for that, but the single most important one is the growth of private sector housing at the bottom end of the market.
There are some good landlords. In that area, the best ones are those who live in the street and own one or two other properties in it. Other very good landlords are those who were left a house when their parents died, look after it well and live in the same town. However, there are absentee landlords who operate through housing agents. I have had people ringing up from Bognor Regis demanding to know why, as their councillor, I was not doing something about the rotten tenants in their house who had just done a moonlight flit and taken all the copper. I had to explain that I was not their councillor but that I was concerned about the house. But I also had to ask why they put those tenants in. I said, “Well, you know what the street is like. It is like that. We are desperately trying to hang on to the good residents there, but you know what it is like”. They said, “No, we have never been there, why should we?”. It is that kind of landlord in the private rented sector that is a disaster.