Reform, regulation & the private rental sector: The Young Foundation view

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The Young Foundation’s reflections on Which?’s regulatory recommendations and why we’re firmly focused on supporting innovative solutions that tackle difficult challenges within the private rented sector.

Today Which? launched their report into experiences in the private rented sector, proposing a set of regulatory recommendations to kick the sector into shape. While the sector is hugely fragmented, and distributed, with 80% of private landlords only owning one property, there are a number of common experiences that can make life pretty miserable for renters.

The Which? report helpfully reiterates some of the ongoing challenges within the sector, including poor quality, limited understanding of rights and responsibilities, complex and/or unfair contract arrangements and lack of security. This comprehensive report will undoubtedly act as a North Star for actors at all levels trying to improve the private rented sector. Reform of the courts system specifically, shows a systemic approach. Namely, there is no point improving regulation and enforcement if the courts system is then deficient.

The report also highlights that the private rented sector as it currently operates is letting down both tenants and landlords. This is important, because it underscores the need for collective, breakthrough approaches that improve the whole system. A neutral space to convene (arguably at both local and national levels) to explore systemic change within this part of the housing sector is truly lacking, however. Because while the recommendations within the report feel sound, and good – if they are impractical to implement or enforce, they do not do the job they set out to.

For example, there is no doubt that the private rented sector could operate more effectively with greater market transparency and information. The recommendation for all landlords to register with their relevant authority, and that data be integrated with the rogue landlord database, is one solution. But depending on how implemented, could end up being a very clunky and onerous way of going about it. A database of registered landlords and associated health and safety regulation is only meaningful – only has any teeth – if it can be enforced. And local authorities are not exactly awash with resource to deliver existing responsibilities, let alone new ones. Any recommendation that requires a local authority to expend existing resources without additional (full cost) support, is going to come unstuck. This is certainly what we found when reviewing regulation in the short-term accommodation sector in Scotland.

But there are other ways of approaching this challenge that might tackle it more efficiently. If the intention behind the regulation is to improve the quality and safety of properties and the behaviours of landlords – and tenants – then other options open up. This includes through platforms like Rent Profile, which is growing a trusted network of verified renters, landlords and agents, providing ratings and reviews with the intention of driving up quality and transparency. And there are enough examples of platforms operating in other sectors (GlassDoor, Trip Advisor et al) to make the case for something similar, operating at scale, within the private rented sector. There is no shortage of learning out there about how to implement something like this well, and if it is the case that the UK market will continue to be made up of the estimated 2 million private landlords, looking toward innovative solutions has to be worthwhile.

Here at The Young Foundation, we’re firmly focused on supporting innovative solutions that tackle difficult challenges within the private rented sector, and are actively seeking partners to expand the impact of our work in this area. Find out more about who we’ve worked with to date, and submit your application to our Reimagining Rent programme. For any partner wishing to work on this important issue with us, contact james.teasdale@youngfoundation.org.

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