How many of us are there?
The 2011 Census found 72,480 private renters in Hackney – that’s nearly a third of the borough. The current figure is probably even higher, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find private renters to campaign with. You could start with your local renters’ group.
If renting is so bad, why don’t private renters just buy a house?
Because in Hackney, the average home costs 11.30 times the average income. You can see the effects – people owning their own properties has declined by 6% while the private rented sector has grown by 10%.
Why can’t they get a council house then?
Because there are currently 15,090 households on the waiting list for social housing in the borough.
Looks like we’re stuck in the private rented sector then. What’s it going to cost?
Monthly median average rent for Hackney in the 12 months leading up to September 2016 was £1,173 in 2016, according to the Valuation Office Agency. Remember, this doesn’t include fuel or council tax bills.
That’s a lot. I guess that means a lot of private renters have to claim housing benefit to stay alive then?
Yes – 9,791 private renters in Hackney need housing benefit to cover their rent.
And does housing benefit cover it?
No. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is the maximum amount of housing benefit you can get, regardless of whether you’re a private renter (renting from a private landlord) or a social renter (renting from the council or a housing association). The monthly LHA in Hackney is:
Room in a shared house: £525.08
One-bedroom flat: £1,032.24
Two-bedroom flat: £1,197.36
House with four or more bedrooms: £1,651.56
How many privately rented homes in the borough are overcrowded?
Hackney council’s Housing Needs Assessment (2009) found 10-11% of privately rented homes in the borough were overcrowded. This figure is likely to be much higher now.
Can I talk to someone at the council about problems with my private landlord?
Yes! Unlike some London councils, Hackney has a specialist advice team for private renters, so they are trained to help if you have received a section 21 notice or are experiencing illegal eviction or harassment from your landlord. Contact them via email or telephone 020 8356 4866.
There’s also up-to-date information for private renters on the Hackney Council website.
Are there any Tenancy Relations Officers (TROs)?
Hackney calls them housing advisors, but they have the same function as TROs (for example, tackling private landlords who harass their tenants). Contact them here.
The council must keep lists of good and bad private landlords, right?
As part of their 2017 campaign for Better Renting, Hackney Council will be publishing a register of properties and landlords, including a list of convicted landlords.
Hackney council supports the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme (also known as the London Rental Standard). Unfortunately, this is only a voluntary scheme, so most landlords don’t sign up to it. Those that do sign up don’t face very many checks – and besides, private renters are rarely in a position to choose between an accredited landlord and a non-accredited one.
Do they record Section 21 (no-fault) evictions in the borough?
No. But they should. Perhaps they’re waiting for a campaigner to tell them to.
Do private landlords in Hackney have to get a licence?
Some councils, like Newham, have been able to make all private landlords get a licence so they know who the local landlords are and what sort of state their properties are in. It’s a bit like driving a car: you have to get a licence so you don’t risk damaging others when you’re driving it.
All councils have to licence Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs, or houses with at least three stories and five people), but it’s up to each council to decide whether to do it for other privately rented homes, too. Unfortunately, central government has come out against universal landlord licensing and now, any council wishing to licence more than 20% of landlords in the borough have to prove the case to Secretary of State, who can grant or refuse permission.
Hackney Council is introducing a licensing scheme, which will cover ALL privately rented homes in Brownswood, Cazenove or Stoke Newington Ward. Your landlord should apply to licence for your address.
From 1 October, if you live in the designated area and your home remains unlicensed, you cannot be served a S21 Notice (to start eviction proceedings under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988) for as long as the address remains as unlicensed. Further, your landlord could be prosecuted and, on conviction, be fined an unlimited amount. The Council doesn’t even have to take the landlord to Court to issue a fine of up to up to £30000 for a breach of licensing conditions.
Does Hackney council have a Private Rented Sector (PRS) forum, where private renters can discuss ways to make private renting better?
In the first quarter of 2017, Hackney consulted with private renters at a series of forum meetings and then, quite clear on what needs to change, launched the Better Renting campaign in July. The campaign includes
Fairness for tenants
Seeking longer terms tenancies, a ban on ‘no DSS’ advertising and an end to tenants’ liability for paying letting agents’ fees.
Tackling ‘rogue’ landlords
Hackney is promoting a more robust, fit and proper landlord regime and publishing a register of properties and landlords, including a list of convicted landlords, in an attempt to stop landlords from renting out properties in unfit condition.
More affordable rents
Hackney upholds that rent increases should be capped at the rate of inflation so that rents are at least predictable.
Know that councils have powers to prosecute landlords who break the law. Unfortunately, in the current system it takes lots of time and money to do this using the criminal courts, so some councils don’t do it.
Hackney Council’s 10 steps to better private renting for tenants and landlords campaign launched in February, 2015, is working to put pressure on the government to agree to the introduction of a national ban on rogue landlords; mandatory installation of fire and carbon monoxide detectors; and action on retaliatory evictions.
How many criminal landlords has Hackney Council prosecuted in the last five years?
We don’t know yet. Perhaps a local campaigner should make a Freedom of Information request to find out: www.whatdotheyknow.com
You can get involved and sign Hackney Council’s petition on 10 steps to better private renting for tenants and landlords.
Who else should I talk to about making private renting fairer in Hackney?
Every council is divided between councillors, who are elected politicians, and non-political officers, who are appointed to do a particular job. In Hackney, these people might be useful to talk to (as well as your local renters’ group):
Councillor Sem Moema
Cabinet Advisor for Private Renting and Housing Affordability
Councillor Rebecca Rennison
Cabinet Advisor for Preventing Homelessness
Corporate Director of Housing