2019 has already brought some good news for renters. The long-awaited end to liability for (most) letting agents’ fees will come into effect on 1 June. Also, Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated his support for backing rent control. Now, James Murray (Deputy Mayor for Housing) and Karen Buck MP are working to make it happen. But first, a bit about how to fix a lock that sticks.
Locks and Lead Pencils
Every Winter, Renters’ Rights London receives a flurry of emails about locks. The questions involve disputes with landlords or their agents over who should bear the costs of a locksmith. But unless you have lost your key (you bear the cost) or the key has actually broken off in the lock (if it’s ‘wear and tear’, it’s a cost to the landlord), you are most unlikely to need the services of a locksmith. What you really need is a lead pencil.
London air is damp and dirty. Moisture, dust and soot all cause problems with locks. If your key won’t turn in the lock, your first port of call should be the newsagent, not the landlord or agent. Buy a sharpened lead pencil. Pencil ‘lead’ is actually graphite. Graphite is a lock lubricant.
Run the pencil lead across the teeth of your key, until the teeth are grey and you can see crumbs of graphite along the blade. Insert your key into the lock, gently, bring it out again, and repeat. After three to six applications of graphite, turn the key in the lock. 99 times out of 100, the door will open.
‘Prevention is better than cure’ so you could buy a pot of graphite powder from a locksmith’s shop or online. It’s quite inexpensive. Don’t get the stuff with silicone added! That’s for engines, not locks. You can puff graphite powder into the lock itself, or dip your key into the pot and lubricate the lock that way, before anything goes wrong. If you choose not to do so, remember the lead pencil trick. When your lock jams, it’s a lead pencil you need.
Adieux to (Most) Letting Agent Fees
“The vast majority of tenants will be subject to a deposit cap of up to five weeks’ rent. The higher six-week deposit cap will apply only to properties where the monthly rent is £4,167 or more.”
This is really good news for Londoners. Here, charging a deposit equal to six weeks rent seems to have become widespread. If you’re asked to pay six weeks deposit between now and June, consider asking whether the property owner or their agent would reduce that, as asking for a deposit equal to six weeks rent is excessive.From 1 June, the only costs landlords and agents will be able to charge tenants for will be:
- Utilities and council tax if these included within the tenancy
- A refundable deposit which should be no more than five weeks rent, if the annual rent is less than £50000.
- A refundable holding deposit to reserve the property which should be more more than one weeks rent.
- Changes to the tenancy requested by the tenant which should no more than £50 or “reasonable cost”
- Early termination of the tenancy requested by the tenant
- Defaults by the tenant which are fines for rent payments made at least 14 days late, and for lost keys. Again, as with changes to the tenancy, these costs must be “reasonable” and supported by evidence, in writing, from the landlord or their agent.
Any other fees will be illegal. A landlord or agent found to have charged fees illegally could be fined £5,000 for a first offence. If they were to break the rules again within five years of that first offence, they could be given an unlimited fine.
Already, landlords’ representatives have warned that the Tenant Fees Act will lead to rent increases. But agents’ fees are legitimate business expenses and so tax deductible to landlords. There can be no honest reason, then, that this long-overdue change should cause rents to rise.
Stop Banks From Discriminating Against Benefit Claimants
You may remember that, last month, Renters’ Rights London included news of a petition on the parliament.uk site. The petition was started by a landlord instructed by her bank to “seek an alternative tenant”, if she wished to keep her mortgage. This, because the tenant was in receipt of benefits. The landlord has started a petition, calling on government to outlaw this kind of discrimination.
As Helena says
“The government must close these loopholes, as they are a breach of basic human rights.”
This is really important so here it is again. Please sign the petition and lease help to build wider support for Helena’s valiant campaign, by posting links to this petition from any social media channels you use?
Sadiq Khan Speaks Up for Rent Controls
The announcement that the Mayor of London will develop a new blueprint for stabilising or controlling rents in London came as a welcome surprise. The news follows on from a YouGov poll, carried out on behalf of City Hall. The poll confirms that more than two-thirds of Londoners support government intervention, to cap the amount landlords can charge. Sadiq Khan has invited Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North, to work with James Murray, Deputy Mayor for Housing, on proposals for rent control or stabilisation laws.
As you probably remember, Karen Buck faced very significant opposition to her earlier attempts at improving standards in rented accommodation before the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, finally received Royal Assent on 20 December. She said: “London’s private renters are amongst the worst affected by the housing crisis in the capital, and the laws to protect them are woefully out of date. We need an approach to rent stabilisation and control that works in London, and I am very pleased to be working with Sadiq’s team to develop a blueprint for what Government should do. Once we have set out these proposals, we will argue the case that Ministers must support London’s private renters by putting our plans into action.”
Merely capping rent increases to the annual rate of inflation would be insufficient to make renting in London any more affordable. Although very recent research found that average rents are equal to one-third of average incomes in London, Renters’ Rights London would argue that these averages are not the proper measure. Not least because average local incomes also include home-owners’ incomes.
At the end of 2017, it was reported that London renters spend nearly half of their salary on rent. This looks a more likely figure, sadly. High housing costs are the main factor explaining London’s 27% poverty rate and more than 50% of Londoners in poverty are in working families. We urgently need reform of the current system, in which a property owner’s right to make a profit from their asset is treated as equal to our human right to adequate housing.
Still, now that the issue of rent controls has been raised, Renters’ Rights London would very much like to know what proportion of your income you pay in rent, and whether or not you think that’s fair, so that we are prepared for whatever might come next. Please do share your wisdom?