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Members of the TUSC deputation and other supporters outside Leeds Civic Hall calling for a 'not-for-profit' letting agency and building council housing (1/4/15)

Members of the TUSC deputation and other supporters outside Leeds Civic Hall calling for a ‘not-for-profit’ letting agency and building council housing (1/4/15)

On Wednesday 9th March, Leeds City Council’s Executive board met to consider a further report on Private Rented Sector housing, with the stand out feature being the proposal to establish a council-run lettings agency.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

This followed a report last year in response to a deputation from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which raised to specific proposals to tackle the high rents, often poor quality and rip-off letting agency fees. This included the lettings agency proposal, which we are pleased to see the council attempting to enact, but also a mass council house building programme.

The latest report marks a step forward, in that the initial proposals only related to allowing landlords with a single property to let through the scheme, whereas now, whilst still focusing on small landlords, the scheme will cover all properties.

But unlike TUSC’s focus on improving the situation facing tenants, the council’s document seems only to be concerned with landlords and whilst full of references about consulting with them, doesn’t mention consulting with tenants about the proposals at all!

Whilst TUSC understands that there will be as the document states ‘accidental landlords … [who] are unsure how to let their property’ they are not the only people who need ‘an alternative to a number of poor quality agents in the city’. Whilst the document suggests that fees charged to landlords will be at the lower end of those charged by letting agencies, no mention is made of admin and other fees tenants have to face – we hope this is because they took our deputation and lobbying on board and will not charge any, but we await to see this confirmed!

The report also highlights a number of other factors including the doubling of the Private Rented Sector nationally, increasing from 2.2m households to 4.4m, in Leeds this translates to 18% of all properties or 58,000 houses. Seen alongside this then the proposed houses the scheme would cover by 2018/19 would only be 300, a drop in the ocean!

But when you also consider that an estimated 9,000 private rented homes in Leeds fail to meet the minimum housing standards, and that rents in the private rented sector are twice the average social rent, then clearly this proposal whilst welcome, falls short of what is necessary. This is why we urge the council to push for a mass council house building programme, rather than settling for the limited number of new houses been provided through their existing PFI scheme.

The council’s document also talks about promoting self-regulation of landlords to keep to accredited standards, on the basis of freeing up more resources to tackle rogue landlords. Clearly, tackling the worst landlords is important, but the idea that the document puts forward that the ‘student and city centre markets… provide above minimum legal standards and offers a strong customer voice.’ Is somewhat fanciful. Over the last week, Leeds Beckett students have shown our activists campaigning in student elections serious problems with their accomodation that clearly are being completely neglected by these landlords.

The council leadership would of course point to the cuts as the reason why they cannot do everything they would like to tackle these issues. But their lack of confidence to stand-up to the government for the resources this city needs comes out in the lack of ambition in the proposals they propose.

Whilst we welcome the letting agency proposal, we believe that the council should set out a wider vision, and mobilise tenants in Leeds to fight for it.