It's Rental Freedom Day for Londoners. Photo: Getty
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Happy Rental Freedom Day! A red letter day for proposing reform

On the day London tenants have earned enough to pay off their annual rental payments, it's time to talk about tenancy reform and building more homes.

Happy Rental Freedom Day! If you're a Londoner on an average income paying the average rent, today's the day you've earned enough to pay off your annual rental payments.

The date falls over a month after the equivalent day for homeowners. London also has the dubious distinction of reaching Rental Freedom Day almost two months later than the rest of the country, with the average UK renter celebrating it on the 12th May.

The median monthly rent in London is now £1,300 according to the Valuation Office Agency, with double digit annual rent inflation not uncommon. Many private renters are paying eye-watering sums for the privilege of living in poor quality properties with bad landlords. Thirty per cent of privately rented homes in London fail the Decent Homes Standard, and complaints against landlords are up 47 per cent since 2008.

London's private rented sector has almost doubled in size since 1991. The proportion of private renters with children increased from 19 per cent to 29 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Yet the laws governing how the sector is run have barely changed since rent controls were abolished in 1989.

Ed Miliband has put forward sensible proposals which will create longer, three year tenancies as standard, with a ceiling on annual rent increases within those contracts. This does not, as some have suggested, represent a return to the kind of rent controls that existed in Britain pre-1989. Anyone who suggests that is either ignorant or being wilfully dishonest. What his proposals represent are a shift to the kind of second generation rent regulation seen in most of our European neighbours.

But high rent is not the only cost facing those living in the private rented sector. Lettings agency fees hit tenants with big upfront costs before they even sign a tenancy agreement. Foxtons charge new tenants £420 as an "administration fee". Felicity J Lord charge £165 per property for a "tenancy agreement", £65 per person "for reference checks", a £60 "admin fee" and a £120 "check-in fee". A constituent that contacted me from the London Borough of Camden was asked by a letting agent to pay £300 just to be added to a tenancy agreement. He was told that this sum would not be refunded even if his references didn't come through.

Labour has proposed banning letting agents from charging upfront fees to tenants. This is the situation in Scotland, where lettings agents can only charge fees to landlords. When I challenged Boris Johnson to support this at Mayor's Question Time on Wednesday he refused to do so, despite agreeing that the kind of fees charged by Foxtons are unacceptable. Once again, the Mayor has chosen to put his faith blindly in the free market rather than support sensible regulation to protect tenants.

Tenancy reform would help to create a more stable private rented sector for tenants, and make the rental market more affordable. But ultimately the real solution to high rents is to build more homes. Despite the Mayor's boasts about his record on housing, London is only building a third of the 62,000 homes we need annually in order to solve our housing crisis. Meanwhile, leaked documents from DCLG show civil servants warning ministers that housebuilding nationally will drop 4 per cent this year despite already being at the lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.

Without reform of the private rented sector, and without a major housebuilding programme, Londoners will be celebrating Rental Freedom Day even later in the coming years.

Tom Copley AM is a Labour London Assembly member

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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