Sadiq Khan, council leaders and trade unionists call for immediate rent freeze to tackle ‘wild west rental market’

Sadiq Khan, trade unions and council leaders have joined renters in calling for Michael Gove to freeze rents (Daniel Lynch)
Sadiq Khan, trade unions and council leaders have joined renters in calling for Michael Gove to freeze rents (Daniel Lynch)

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has today joined council leaders, trade unions and other organisations in calling on Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove to implement a freeze on private rents and a ban on evictions.

The mayors of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, and Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram; the Green Party; council leaders from Newham, Hackney, Brent and Wandsworth; and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch are among those joining Mr Khan in signing an open letter which calls for Mr Gove to “follow the Scottish government and introduce an immediate freeze on rents, to help renters weather the worst of the cost of living crisis and help prevent huge numbers of renters facing homelessness in the coming months."

Co-ordinated by the London Renters Union (LRU), the letter also demands an immediate ban on evictions until the end of the cost of living crisis and asks the government to deliver on the commitment to end Section 21 evictions — commonly-known as ‘no-fault evictions’ — by fast-tracking the delayed Renters Reform Bill.

The LRU reported average rent rises of £3,400 — or 20.5 per cent — in December which is approaching double the national figure of 12 per cent.

Half of all private tenants are struggling with housing costs, with an “even more severe” situation facing four in five renters in London. The LRU has 6,400 members across London, with branches in six boroughs: Brent, Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Lewisham, Haringey and Newham.

Adjusting for inflation of 9.2 per cent in December, the 2022 average salary increase of 6.7 per cent represented a pay cut in real terms of 2.5 per cent last year - one of the sharpest declines for 20 years.

Mr Khan said today: "London’s private renters are facing a triple whammy with rising rents, bills, and the cost of household essentials putting a major strain on their finances. That’s why I’ve repeatedly called on the Government to implement an immediate rent freeze in the capital, as has been done in Scotland, and give me the power to introduce a system of rent controls that works for London.

“My message to ministers is simple and shared by others right across the country: implement your long-promised renters reform legislation and take action now to make rents more affordable.”

LRU spokesperson Liam Miller said: “Millions are being squeezed by falling wages and rising rents.”

“The government has the power to protect people from unaffordable rent rises, but it is choosing instead to preside over a wild west rental market that is punishing the people who kept the country going through the pandemic.”

“A rent freeze now is the only way to address the scale and urgency of the crisis, and would represent a step towards a stronger housing system that meets everyone’s needs.”

The Renters Reform Bill is due to be formerly presented to Parliament before the end of spring this year. Along with plans to end no-fault evictions, proposed legislation includes doubling notice periods for rent increases and giving tenants stronger powers to challenge unjustified hikes.

LRU member Kirsty, a teacher, said: “My pay has not risen in line with inflation. After my last landlord tried to raise the rent, I had no choice but to move further away from work. I was soon signed off sick due to the stress of moving house and the increase to my commute.”

“Now, only one year into our new tenancy, our landlord has asked for another £1200 in rent. I feel like I’m back to square one.”

The Mayor of London has repeatedly called for rent controls to be introduced in England and Wales. In September 2022, Mr Khan called for a rent freeze on the back of City Hall analysis that showed renters in poorly insulated housing were paying a premium on their energy bills.

In March last year, he asked ministers for the power to freeze private rents in the capital for two years — a request he repeated in August after rents were reported to have increased by 15 per cent in a year.

During his re-election campaign in 2019, Mr Khan said that controls like those already in place in cities like New York and Berlin (although these were later defeated in court) were also needed in London.

Landlords and lettings experts, however, argue that rent controls may drive landlords from the market and reduce the number of properties available to rent at a time when supply is already squeezed.

New data from the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) shows that 90 per cent of private landlords in central London reported rising demand for rented housing in the final three months of last year, up from the 74 per cent of landlords who reported the same the year before.

Despite rising demand, the squeeze on supply seems to be worsening with almost a third of private landlords reporting to the NRLA that they plan to reduce the number of homes they let in 2023.