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The Bristol Cable
We look at what the parties are promising to renters in the run up to the election. Their manifestos don’t hold many surprises.

Photo: Detail of IC Visual Labs’ CAGE project by Benoit Bennett

Everyone’s a loser in Bristol’s housing crisis, except for landlords and people looking to sell their homes. Tenants in the privately rented sector are struggling to keep up with rents that rise faster than wages and tenants in social housing face cuts to housing benefit and many months wait for repairs. We’re in the midst of a housing crisis that’s been going strong since 2016 and shows no sign of slowing down.

Khalil is a youth worker in St Jude’s and many of the young people he works with live in massively overcrowded houses. “Children are growing up in a very, very small property,” he tells me. “Imagine five children and two parents living in a two bedroom.

“When you live in a small space like that seven days a week it affects your life, your wellbeing and your mental health,” he adds. “They have no privacy or space to do their work. So that young person is behind the other young people in the city. They’re feeling they’ve been locked up. They cannot find their space.”

The problem is widespread, he says. Elsewhere, tenants complain of poor building maintenance, antisocial behaviour and long waits for repairs. 

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Bristol City Council owns 27,240 social housing properties and there are around 13,000 people currently waiting for a property. The average wait for a home in the top two bands – those most in need – was 204 days (Band 1) and 491 days (Band 2) in 2018-19. On the application website, would-be tenants are warned: “The waiting list is very long, even people with the greatest need often wait several years before they get a council property”.

Voters will decide on 12 December if they want more of the same policies or a new approach. The Renter Manifesto, made by tenant organisations across the country, lays out the policies they say we need to end the housing crisis, and compared the parties’ manifestos on each one. Among them are an end to section 21 tenancies, ending discrimination against benefit claimants and rent controls – capping rent at 30% of a tenant’s income. 

‘Local government should be funded adequately but at the end of the day the council has responsibility to house people securely’

“We need funding for councils to maintain their houses properly,” says Aidan Cassidy, Bristol organiser for community union ACORN. “We’ve seen awful conditions over the last year, especially council flats and council houses in Bristol.”

While central government cuts and landlord-friendly policies can be blamed for much of the housing crisis, Bristol’s Labour council needs to accept some responsibility, says Aidan.

An increasing amount of ACORN’s caseload is from tenants living in social housing. Acorn are currently working with tenants in Barton Hill and Littlecross House in Bedminster. Littlecross House has drug litter everywhere and a lack of security, says Aidan, and it’s because there’s only one part-time member of staff for the council’s biggest tower block in Bristol.

“Now what the council will tell you is: they don’t have the funding, which is kind of their answer to a lot of problems. It’s their way of absolving themselves from having to take responsibility for that, in my eyes. There are smaller blocks with more staff so I think that’s nonsense.”

But that is exactly what the council tells me. Council cabinet lead for housing, Paul Smith, says that Bristol has lost around 16% income a year from the Social Rent Reduction Act

Smith says the council was about to launch a consultation on how to make the housing register list more effective, but they had to postpone it for the election and instead it will launch in January.

“I agree that local government should be funded adequately but at the end of the day the council has responsibility to house people securely and this is not doing that,” says Aidan.

Bristol’s private sector: where paying 38% of your income to your landlord is normal

With the council waiting list as high as it is and private renting, families in unsuitable accommodation don’t have many options, says Khalil.

“Most of the families are low income and they’re not earning enough to move – property is very expensive in Bristol and rent is very high.”    

Bristol’s social housing rents are among the cheapest in the country. Unfortunately, the opposite is true of the city’s private rental sector. Bristol is among the most expensive cities to rent in, and rising fast – rents have risen by a third in the last four years. This has created a rental market where tenants pay an average of 38% of their income, and one in four private renters are living in poverty.

Obviously, gentrification is one of the biggest drivers of the steep increases, along with the growth of employment outstripping the growth in housing supply, a large student population, and the rise in house prices meaning fewer people can afford to buy. 

“Landlords absolutely love it because they can just put the rent up and up and up”

Aidan says the impact of gentrification is circular: as rents increase, this attracts tenants with higher income, which pushes the rents up further. 

“Landlords absolutely love it because they can just put the rent up and up and up. People who’ve lived there for years can find themselves just being completely forced out.”  

It’s also meant that demand has outstripped supply and landlords have a carte blanche to raise rents indiscriminately in in-demand areas. 

Mathi, an Italian student, has experienced this firsthand. She and her partner were paying £600 for a one-bedroom flat on Stokes Croft when her landlord sold the flat. The new owner kept them on a rolling contract but their rent rose to £800 and then to £1,200. Then building work began in the flats above and below them, with workers starting at 7am each morning.

They moved out and now, two months later, she’s still struggling to find a room. “Every time I have a viewing, people choose someone else or change their mind about having a tenant. I’m currently hosted by a friend in Hengrove, but it’s really far from where I work and study, Stokes Croft, so I usually sleep at the pub I’m working at, on a sofa.”

Aidan says the answer to the growing housing crisis is rent controls, the outlawing of Section 21 (something the government pledged in 2018 but hasn’t yet delivered), and a huge investment in public house building programmes to make up for the houses lost through Right to Buy.

How the parties compare

This election, the parties have all been pretty quiet on the subject of housing, which is unusual given the extent of the housing crisis. 

The Renter Manifesto shows up a stark contrast in priorities between the parties.

Section 21 evictions are the leading cause of homelessness, in Bristol and across the country. Theresa May’s government said she would ban them last year, then didn’t and “Boris Johnson’s been pretty quiet on it,” points out Aidan. It is in the Conservative manifesto, but its effectiveness would be dampened by giving greater right of possession to ‘good landlords’. ACORN are calling it “section 21 by the back door”. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, few of the policies the Renter Manifesto says are necessary to fix the housing crisis are addressed in the Conservative manifesto. Many of their recent policies have been ones that have exacerbated the housing crisis: the Help to Buy scheme, which was only really useful for the well-off and Right to Buy, which has severely depleted council housing stock nationwide. 

The Renter Manifesto, by Generation Rent, London Renters Union, ACORN, Tenants Union UK, Renters’ Rights London and the New Economics Foundation

The Conservative’s new manifesto promises more of the same with a focus on home ownership: policies that will be appreciated by voters who are in their own homes, or can afford to buy but won’t impress voters in insecure tenancies. Among these are: an extension of  Right to Buy, discounts for local first time buyers and longer-term fixed rate mortgages.

However, they do commit to tackling homelessness, with some of the money raised through stamp duty, and expanding the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First programmes.

Labour’s manifesto is more promising for renters. This is the party’s boldest position on housing in decades, offering reforms for private renters, such as ending discrimination against benefit claimants, ending Right to Rent, section 21 and Right to Buy, and the biggest affordable house building programme since the 1960s. 

An Acorn demonstration (Photo: Acorn/Facebook)

ACORN’s Aidan points out that while Labour’s manifesto addresses 11½ out of the 15 policies identified as crucial by the Renter Manifesto, a key one they’ve missed is giving private renters control over their homes. At the moment you need permission from your landlord to make even small or necessary changes to a rented property, like to get a cat, redecorate, and even make a house accessible.

The Greens are next best after Labour, according to the Renter Manifesto, with 7½ renter-pleasing policies, gaining points in landlord accountability and pledging to commit to private rented homes that tackle the climate emergency and fuel poverty. And the Lib Dems come second to last, at 3½, with the only concrete policy pledge being a national database of landlords.

“The renters manifesto shows how much of a choice there is in this election for renters,” says Aidan. “The difference between the parties is pretty stark in terms of renting.”

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  • Gromit says:

    Abolishing Sec.21 Notices will mean neighbours suffering anti-social tenants for much longer, still higher rents as Landlord costs for eviction escalate, & fewer properties available as Landlords exit the rental market.

    • Matt h says:

      …so if landlords exit the market to get a proper jobs actually doing something why do there houses disappear or evaperate?

      Thats quite confused.

      Section 21 has only ever been used to put my friends rents up!

      If all landlord who didnt like section 21 got proper jobs then maybe house prices would fall to an amount where within a decade I could save enough on minimum wage for a deposit….as it is i’ve no hope of ever being able to have a home.

      • John says:

        Clueless. No the houses don’t disappear but they’re out of rental stock. You do understand that don’t you? So those that have to rent have less to choose from and rents will likely rise.

        Then of course you also ignore the fact that landlords have added massively to housing stock. That activity is tailing off now.

        S21 only ever used to put rents up? What an absurd statement.

        And if you think house prices are going to drop then which lender do you think would be prepared to lend to you? Answer is none.

        And builders will stop building too.

      • Gromit says:

        Thanks for stating the obvious but you fail to state that the Tenants (who will be evicted as a result) will still need somewhere else to rent and will struggle in a diminished rental market.

      • singlelayer says:

        A relatively recent Government study realised it had missed two of the largest groups buying property from landlords and it wasn’t tenants as they’d hoped. It was recent divorcees where previously one household now became two and older children still living with parents (neither group were renting before purchasing ex-BTL properties). Essentially for every house sold by a landlord to one of these groups is one less property in the rental market, but with no equivalent decrease in demand. On a separate note, not a single one of my few hundred tenants either want to or can buy their rented property…I’ve asked. Most do not have the credit-worthiness, nor the additional funds for insurance or repairs and the like. Their current rent, even if they could get a mortgage, would only just about cover the repayments on 90% residential consumer borrowing (what they’re very likely take owing to their deposit limitations). I understand it’s not an easy concept to grasp knowing the properties don’t simply evaporate and in a town like mine the only real option would be for a landlord to sell to another landlord (great, right?) but if the industry’s environment becomes so incredibly unattractive with the likes of rent controls and an inability to recover the property via Section 21, eventually one of those purchasing landlords will say ‘enough is enough’ and simply lock the door and pay the council tax until more favourable conditions arise. If you think that penalising them for that would change things, I’m sure many would choose bankruptcy. You cannot force landlords to rent to your ideals.

      • Possession Friend says:

        Matt you need to look at all the Regulation and ‘Red tape’ that ( often Tenants ask for ) that has been implemented on Landlords.
        Guess what happens when you impose costs on a business, – the cost to end users increases – its not Rocket-science.

      • Possession Friend says:

        You need to look at all the regulation and its costs ( often imposed at Tenants behest ) that has placed costs on Landlords.
        When extra business costs are introduced, its the end-user that pays, its not Rocket-science.
        You can start to blame your Local Authorities and move on from there.
        Actually, you could also levy some blame at the majority of bad tenants subject of Possession proceedings, or do you live in utopia where all tenants pay their rent and don’t cause any damage ?

      • Luke says:

        A relatively recent Government study realised it had missed two of the largest groups buying property from landlords and it wasn’t tenants as they’d hoped. It was recent divorcees where previously one household now became two and older children still living with parents (neither group were renting before purchasing ex-BTL properties). Essentially for every house sold by a landlord to one of these groups is one less property in the rental market, but with no equivalent decrease in demand. On a separate note, not a single one of my few hundred tenants either want to or can buy their rented property…I’ve asked. Most do not have the credit-worthiness, nor the additional funds for insurance or repairs and the like. Their current rent, even if they could get a mortgage, would only just about cover the repayments on 90% residential consumer borrowing (what they’re very likely take owing to their deposit limitations). I understand it’s not an easy concept to grasp knowing the properties don’t simply evaporate and in a town like mine the only real option would be for a landlord to sell to another landlord (great, right?) but if the industry’s environment becomes so incredibly unattractive with the likes of rent controls and an inability to recover the property via Section 21, eventually one of those purchasing landlords will say ‘enough is enough’ and simply lock the door and pay the council tax until more favourable conditions arise. If you think that penalising them for that would change things, I’m sure many would choose bankruptcy. You cannot force landlords to rent to your ideals.

      • Gromit says:

        You make a number of totally unsubstantiated statements please provide (if you) evidence to back those up?
        1. “…so if landlords exit the market to get a proper jobs…” & “If all landlord who didn’t like section 21 got proper jobs” – do you know how many Landlords have days jobs? how many actually work fulltime as a Landlord?
        2. “Section 21 has only ever been used to put my friends rents up!” Evidence? The reality is in most cases it is used to move on a tenant in rent arrears, or who has damaged the property or is anti-social.
        3. “If all landlord who didn’t like section 21 got proper jobs then maybe house prices would fall …..” on which planet does this economics work because it certainly ain’t this one. Kindly explain?

        What you have shown is that you really don’t know a thing about the property market and inferring a couple of anecdotes are being the norm across the whole industry is just claptrap.

      • Gromit says:

        “Section 21 has only ever been used to put my friends rents up!”

        Legally a Sec.13 Notice is required to increase rents not Sec.21. You seem a little on facts and lot on hearsay.

      • Gromit says:

        Totally biased article, and an affront to professional journalism.

  • John says:

    This is a most extraordinarily damaging article for those that it is apparently intended to help – renters. It starts off saying that rents are rising faster than wages. Evidence please because if you look at the stats the opposite is true. And then it goes on with phrases like ‘landlord friendly policies’ which frankly, is a farce. And where’s the balance??? In the last 4 years there have been over 20 significant changes to the private rental sector and they all come at a cost. Section 24 for example, means that a landlord can be taxed more than they earn! So not quite so good for landlords as Hannah misleadingly states!

    As for the abolition of S21 it is complete lunacy to think this is going to help. The article states !Section 21 evictions are the leading cause of homelessness, in Bristol and across the country”. This is an outright lie! S21 is not a cause, it is a procedure that has been used because of something else. It may be rent arrears, it may be anti-social behaviour, it could be a multitude of other things but S21 is NOT a cause. Hannah is intentionally misleading the reader.

    The Telegraph ran an article in the last couple of weeks saying that the private rented sector has shrunk by 103k properties in the last couple of years.

    Just imagine how much and how fast it will shrink further if this stupid idea comes to pass and landlords can’t regain control of their properties. Things will get a whole lot worse I can promise you.

    And the very threat of S21 being abolished means that I am already selling up my properties. Well done Hannah for continuing with the campaign to make things worse for renters.

    • Section 21 made me homeless. says:

      ……well your correct it was more landlord greed then the actual act.

      The landlord wanted to make a quick Buck so terferd me out after 4 years of every bit of rent coming on time for a cold damp house and that was the last time I had my own place.

      Have you been homeless much this year?

      This is all to real for me……it’s not a lie.

      Get a proper job!

  • Shane says:

    As a landlord we are being forced to increase are rents to meet the continuing increases in laws that are being passed. Bristol has the highest license fee of any council -£1300. This has to be passed on to tenants. On top of that section 24 ( being able to claim for the mortgage cost) will by next year cost me £4000 more every year than 4 years ago- so that has to be passed on.
    Add all the other laws and regulations which cost money and time and you see why landlords are leaving in there mass and reducing the housing stock choice for people who don’t won’t to buy a house. Blame the government, not landlords

    • Matt h says:

      Shane do you seriously think renters and the homeless just are “people who don’t won’t to buy a house. “!

      Thats hilarious!

      For years I paid 2/3rds of my monthly pay for a cold damp place, untill I was made homeless….and that was just my choice I guess

      • John says:

        Are you responding to the right comment Matt? Seems not. Read the post again and understand that it’s going to get worse for renters because of the things that Shane has said, and also I have said. In other words try to get your head round what’s happening to the rental stock as a whole rather than bleating how terrible your life is.

  • nathan morris says:

    lots of the renting controls are needed and sensible…however giving private renters control over their rented property allowing them to make changes and decorate is ridiculous….how manu people thibk they can paint properly….all of them….how many can actually paint properly….virtually none of them.
    also some leases have clauses not allowing changes to be made to properties without permission from mgt co. so will end up with tenantsbteaching those leases and open to eviction or recourse.

    i pay a good decorator to maintain my property every 2 years….
    i have had tenants who think they cab decorate and they then end up losing part of deposit due to having to make good the poor decorating attempt.

    • Ruth says:

      Yes I have had tenants paint white upvc windows pink and light switches and sockets painted over. White ceilings always covered in different paints.
      I have just got a property back and tenant had a cat which I agreed to. Turns out she got five cats who used all the pine doors as scratching posts and all the rubbers around the windows completely destroyed by the cats trying to get in.
      Oh saintly tenants

  • Ros Beck says:

    This is an outrageously biased article against landlords – the heading is perhaps the worst part. Because the other point of view has not even been asked for, the piece is also very ignorant and filled with errors. Why was the Residential Landlords Association not approached for comment, for instance? They could have corrected many of the biases and errors in the piece. A point which certainly should have been made is that constant attacks on private landlords is making landlords exit the market, meaning that it is becoming harder for tenants to find somewhere to live. This destructive agenda has to stop as contrary to the headline, there will be no winners at all if it continues. Who wants to provide a housing service to people, only to be vilified and demonised for doing so?

    • Richard says:

      A service! We don’t want your service.

      The rental market is a disgrace.

      Renters are sick of parasites.

      Homes are for people to live in. Not for speculation and profit.

      You don’t like this simple fact because you’re making cash at the expense of renters’ need of a basic necessity.

      You can’t justify this reality however much you would like make yourself feel better.

      But carry on, if you don’t do it someone else will. And that’s what makes it fine, eh?

  • Ruth says:

    Most Political Parties have encouraged the constant attacks on the Btl sector forgetting this sector housed many tenants working and social. I also think the relationship worked between landlord and tenant.
    Drip feeding negative inaccurate comments gets taken has truth.
    Btl landlords are not loaded most work hard to maintain their properties.
    Now many will be taxed on the money they pay the interest only mortgage with.
    What would Acorn have to say if tenants rent payment is added to their earnings and the tax calculated on this figure?

    The article talks of overcrowding but surely some responsibility is required. Why have large families if you can’t afford them.?
    If to many people live in a property it will be more likely to suffer condensation and damage.
    Is there no respect, pride or work ethic left
    In this country?

    No mention of the billions of costs landlords suffer throu non payment of rent and trashed properties. Why should these tenants get rehoused by the state?

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