Poor quality and tenure issues mean most councillors do not see PRS as top priority
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Housing
Westminster negotiates lower private rents on former council flats
Only 2% of councillors in England see the private rented sector supply of housing as their top priority for new housing supply, a survey has revealed.
The low priority for the PRS reflected major concerns councils have about regulating large numbers of small buy-to-let landlords; the poor quality of PRS homes; short leases and security of tenure; and rising rent levels.
Conducted by the Smith Institute in partnership with Places for People, the survey - ‘The growth of the private rented sector: what do local authorities think?’ - found that councillors and officers are concerned with the quality of homes in the PRS – especially at the bottom end of the market.
Councils often struggled to cope with the number of smaller (sometimes accidental) landlords who lack the necessary skills and knowledge.
It was felt by most officers that more resources were needed to enforce standards and some feared that continued austerity would lead to further cutbacks in staffing at a time when the PRS was continuing to grow.
The survey also revealed large support for greater security of tenure for private tenants.
The majority of councillors (79%) from across England, and of all political complexions, thought that the minimum tenure for the PRS should be increased - a third said to one year and a third to three years or more.
The survey also found:
• Almost all councillors surveyed believed that rents in the PRS would rise, and the vast majority thought that rents in the PRS would rise faster than the social housing sector (85%).
• There was a mixed response to state regulation of rents: 42% thought they should continue to be decided by the market; 32% thought rents should be capped during the tenancy period; and 27% thought rent controls should be reintroduced. If rents were capped the vast majority (80%) thought they should be determined by local government.
• Whilst 2% listed the PRS as their council’s top priority for new supply of housing, 60% listed new supply of properties for owner occupation and 38% for social renting.
Despite serious concerns about the quality of some PRS homes, 57% of councillors see the PRS as important in meeting local housing need.
The general view from council officials was that whilst they had not supported PRS growth in the past this was now changing.
Only half of councillors surveyed (51%) thought that their local plan actively supported the growth of the PRS. However, two thirds (67%) said they would consider relaxing section 106 obligations under certain circumstances for developments with a significant proportion of PRS homes.
Paul Hackett, director of the Smith Institute, said:
“Our survey shows that councils are cautious about the PRS. They want to improve the security of tenancies and housing quality, but struggle to regulate the PRS in their areas. The government needs to do more to help councils lift the quality bar across the sector.”
David Cowans, CEO of Places for People, added: “We supported this study because we’re keen to support housing growth across all tenures.
"We manage over 24,000 private rented homes and we are passionate about increasing the quality and size of the sector.
"But, despite local authorities’ best efforts, clear appetite from investors; and strong emphasis from central government this work shows us that more needs to be done to make it happen.
"Councils have a key role to play in using their planning and economic growth levers to create the right environment to attract investment into this vital sector and to drive up standards for tenants.”