Bristol’s ‘unfair’ private renting market ‘is breaking up communities’

Bristol’s private renting market is ‘unfair’ and breaking up communities.

That’s the view of a campaign that is aiming to reverse the tide of the housing crisis and make changes to the city’s renting system to make it fair, safe, secure, affordable and accessible.

The Bristol Fair Renting Campaign, which began last year in the run-up to the Mayoral Elections, is already beginning to chalk up successes.

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The campaign, begun by a team of volunteers under the umbrella of housing charity Shelter, created a manifesto just ahead of the mayoral election.

And since then, they have been working with the winning councillors and mayor to hold them all to pledges made to support the calls for change in the rental market.

“The manifesto sets out how private renting locally is negatively impacting our communities and what changes we urgently need,” said a spokesperson for the Bristol Fair Renting Campaign. “This manifesto reflects what people across Bristol have come together to call for in order to fix private renting – working out shared problems, and what we think needs to done about it,” she added.

“Local rents are out of control and disproportionate to people’s incomes. This situation has only been made worse by the pandemic, as many people face uncertainty in their employment. Growing numbers of us can’t afford these rising rents,” she added.

The knock-on effects of demand for rental housing massively outstripping supply mean that too many landlords are not meeting their responsibilities, the campaigners said.

“Disrepair and poor, unsafe conditions are a common issue for renters in our city. And we are not able to challenge landlords or letting agents who refuse or fail to make repairs or keep our homes safe, because we are at risk of rent increases and retaliatory eviction,” she said. “Many of us are locked out of private renting, due to the discrimination we face based on our age, sex, race, disability, type of employment or type of income,” she added.

The manifesto contains a simple three-point plan, or set of demands, that the campaigners want politicians to sign up to.

The first is to tackle high and out of control rents, and lobby national government for more local powers to make sure that landlords charge fair rents for a good service.

This means, effectively, a rent cap – something that Bristol City Council does not have the power to impose without legislation or running a trial, pilot scheme with Government permission. While the principle of a rent cap has gained the backing of the Marvin Rees administration at City Hall, the mayor has admitted that he is not exactly confident a Conservative Government would allow Bristol to even try rent controls in the first place.

The second is to tackle poor conditions more proactively to ensure that the homes people are renting are decent and safe, and lobby national government to permanently protect renters from retaliatory evictions.

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And the third is to tackle discrimination in private renting and create a local action plan to stamp out ‘No DSS’ practices.

This third one looks the most likely to succeed – even though there are still countless landlords still refusing to take on DSS tenants. The default discrimination comes every day with lettings agents who require a similar level of guaranteed income, bank statements and job security as a mortgage lender, just to rent a small flat in Bristol.

But already, the Fair Rent campaign has achieved a measure of success – last month, Bristol City Council adopted a new policy to incorporate a requirement in the licenses landlords have to have to rent out homes in many parts of Bristol, that they will not discriminate against tenants on benefits.

Now, the Fair Rent Campaign is moving on to its next big challenge – formulating a bid to the Government, made by Bristol City Council, to pilot a rent cap, and also meet with council chiefs to talk about how to beef up inspections, licenses and improve living conditions for thousands of renters.

That’s the aim of the Renters’ Summit next month.

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