Camden vision for ‘German-style’ private housing market with capped rents

Right to left: Cllr Sarah Hayward, Prof Tony Travers, Prof Christine Whitehead and Kathleen Scanlon.

Right to left: Cllr Sarah Hayward, Prof Tony Travers, Prof Christine Whitehead and Kathleen Scanlon. Picture: Polly Hancock. - Credit: Archant

Plans to transform the private housing market in Camden by capping rent increases for tenants at risk of being priced out have been unveiled by one of the country’s leading housing experts.

A new vision for the borough’s private rented sector – inspired by the housing model in Germany – spearheaded by Christine Whitehead, professor of housing economics at the London School of Economics (LSE), was unveiled at Whitehall on Tuesday.

A Camden Council-commissioned report from Prof Whitehead and LSE research fellow Kath Scanlon proposes a new “rent stabilisation” model in the borough, in which landlords and new tenants enter into a voluntary agreement that any future rent increases are capped at the rate of inflation.

The economists claim the model would be mutually beneficial, preventing unreasonable rent hikes for tenants and ensuring secure, long-term tenancies for landlords.

It is hoped the model will be adopted by other local authorities and used by government policy-makers as a blueprint to help solve London’s housing crisis.

Prof Whitehead said: “We are arguing for rent stabilisation taken from a position of a single local authority trying to start a debate nationally and start a debate in the London environment as well.

“The case for a voluntary system of longer leases and index-linked rents does have its benefits and there will be people who will take it up. They’ll take it up tomorrow, some will take it up in two years’ time. Some will take longer.”

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Prof Whitehead’s report draws heavily on the experience of private renters in Germany, where half of households are private tenants and rent increases are controlled by a set index.

In contrast to Prof Whitehead, who is wary of scaring off landlords with legislation, Camden Council leader Cllr Sarah Hayward said she wanted to see a “mandatory” cap on rents, which requires a government change in legislation.

“While we wait for national government to get its act together on housing, we are going to intervene in the ways we can and impact on people’s lives,” she said.

“We need landlords who want to provide good quality homes in a fair way to tenants. Tenants should be able to expect safe, clean, well-maintained homes and I think they should have some certainty over what level of rent they are going to be paying.”

The council, which heads the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, is to roll out the new voluntary rent stabilisation scheme to its landlords imminently and hopes to sign up future landlords coming into the private market.

There are also plans to set up a council-run lettings agency serving tenants in the private sector at no cost in order to tackle the exorbitant fees charged by some private lettings agents.