“The rent has increased by 80 per cent, but the mould still keeps coming back”

Oh, landlords. Image: Getty.

When London Renters Union member Ghazal moved with her family into a house in Newham, the kitchen ceiling was almost completely covered in mould. Every time the landlord does a quick repair job in response to Ghazal’s complaints, he promptly hikes the rent. Ten years on, the rent has increased by 80 per cent, but the mould still keeps coming back.

Pooja has been told by her landlord that she has to choose between paying a 20 per cent rent hike or be evicted to make way for someone who will. Another of our members was recently forced to move an hour away from where his young son goes to school because he can’t afford the rent in Newham anymore.

Rents in London have risen 22 per cent since 2011. At the London Renters Union, we meet dozens of people each week, whose rising rents are leaving them with little left over for food or other essentials. Rent rises are driving gentrification in our city and forcing countless people away from their communities and support networks.

It’s in this context of real human suffering as a result of London’s profit-driven housing crisis that Sadiq Khan’s call on Friday for the power to introduce rent controls should be warmly welcomed. He is calling for powers to establish a London Private Rent Commission that would maintain a much-needed database of landlords and rent payments and set a maximum rent level for different areas in London.

Even if the mayor of London being given such powers still seems a long way off, the boldness of the proposals and the focus on reducing rents rather than just stabilising them shifts the debate about who and what housing in our city is for. An announcement like today’s would have been unthinkable five years ago but London’s renters are demanding change and a renters movement is growing fast across the capital. Hopefully we’ll one day look back on today as a massive and historic step towards transforming the housing system so that it works for renters rather than investors.

But there’s still a long way to go. For starters, the mayor hasn’t set out how much he’d like to see rents reduced by, preferring instead to say that this will be determined by the hands-off Private Rent Commission he hopes to create.

It’s generally accepted in the sector that housing that costs someone more than 30-35 per cent of their income is unaffordable. A two-bed in Newham typically costs £1,400 per month, which is 60 per cent of local incomes. To be effective, rent controls need to eventually reduce rents to 30 per cent of local incomes after tax, so people can stay in their communities and flourish in their homes without having to skimp on other essentials just to make the rent.

It’s also concerning that Sadiq’s proposed London Private Rent Commission would have powers to “incentivise investment” in the private rented sector and make build-to-rent more attractive for landlords and investors.

At its core, London’s housing crisis is driven by the assumption that underpins our broken housing system: that houses are commodities, rather than homes for people to live in, a situation that has only worsened since London’s property market became a more attractive option for investors after the financial crash. 

Renters in London this year will hand over £22bn from their wages to private landlords who can pay off their mortgage and then sell up, while their tenants are left with nothing to show for years of rent payments.

Rather than providing fresh incentives to investors looking to profit from people’s need for housing, the mayor should be looking at ways to bring more housing into public democratic ownership. He could ask for powers to issue compulsory purchase orders on the 22,000 long-term empty homes in the capital. Or he could find a way to offer landlords upset at the prospect of rent controls the ability to sell their homes to the public sector or community trusts, so they can be rented out at affordable rents with indefinite secure tenancies.

Truly transforming the housing system means shifting the balance of power and that requires action from below as well as from above. Sadiq should also look to empower renters themselves, and their organisations. In just our first year, thousands have joined the London Renters Union and we’ve supported more than 50 people to improve their housing situation – including by taking direct action to prevent evictions and force estate agents to hand back thousands of pounds they’ve wrongly withheld from renters. We were part of the End Unfair Evictions coalition that secured an announcement from Theresa May that the government will scrap Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. Along with ACORN and Living Rent, two renters unions, we forced NatWest to scrap policies that discriminate against renters who receive benefits.

The Labour party leadership recognised the vital role that a mass movement of organised renters could play in transforming society when they pledged to fund renter unions when next in power. Sadiq should follow this lead by making sure renters unions are given a prominent role in his proposed London Private Rent Commission. He could also take further steps to empower renters such as supporting the right of renters to go on rent strike and to enter into collective bargaining with big landlords. 

Ultimately, Londoners and people across the UK need a housing system that prioritises everyone having a decent home rather than profits for landlords and investors. Hopefully Sadiq Khan’s announcement on Friday takes us closer to that reality.

Michael Deas is coordinator of the London Renters Union.


London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.