Ok, I’m angry again. It’s really out of character as I’m usually very mild mannered. Here’s a question: what do you do if you’ve paid a group of people over around 10 years to come up with a series of proposals to regulate renting relationships (ie the Law commission) but you can’t live with their final reports? Well, you could do nothing, which was the government’s preferred strategy, but a lot of people out there think that the Law Commission’s suggestions were pretty sensible (although I’m in the “some good, some daft” category) and those people are beating the drum. Alternative strategy: pay somebody else to come up with a report on which you can base your forthcoming Green Paper which rubbishes the other body’s work. Yes, there is yet another review of private renting, funded by the government and written by a couple of housing policy academics at York University, published yesterday (click here). Now, its pretty clear that the authors are not lawyers and that shouldn’t be held against them; indeed, its a positive head start. But you can’t achieve a review of the future regulation of the sector without (say) John Hills’ charming implied put-downs of government ministers and/or Cave’s clear analytical (but dry) reasoning; actually, you can’t really do this kind of a review without understanding the state of the art in basic regulation, something which the Law Commission actually did achieve. The entire body of the Law Commission’s work on security of tenure is dealt with by misrepresenting it in this new review in a couple of pages of really mind-numbing poverty of thought (see pp 81-2); understandings of regulation, risk and impact are non-existent, and well, I could go on. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give this kind of thing the time of day but it is going to be influential in developing the government’s proposals in, brace yourself, the forthcoming Green Paper.
Yet amidst all that negativity, there are some good recommendations which are likely to appeal to readers; it’s just that they’re really rather vague. The authors recommend that there should be a licensing scheme for all landlords, run by an independent body, which would be given on the payment of a cash sum but the landlord could be removed from the scheme if the local authority says so (eg where the landlord is guilty of retailiatory eviction) but these circumstances aren’t really spelled out – the suggestion is that local authorities should start with the worst landlords but this rather begs the question; agents should be encouraged but subject also to mandatory licensing and regulation, seemingly of a more intrusive kind; and, much more importantly, the authors sneak the following into a bullet point
Landlord licence fees could contribute to the development of a housing justice network, which should be effectively linked to the licensing framework. A single property tribunal might be easier for tenants to access, and could be connected to a specialised housing court. The procedures and outcomes from similar models operating in other countries should be scrutinised in detail, so that any good practice lessons could be absorbed. (at p. 113)
(note: the Law Commission did this comparative work).
All of this would have been great if the authors had a feel for regulation, law, and, in a way, real life outside the York closet. But they don’t. There is, on the plus side, an interesting discussion of buy-to-let and the types of households living in private renting; but there’s a lot of other stuff on the minus side (eg a poor discussion of the use of private renting to meet homelessness obligations) and a lot of the usual academic self-referencing.
Oh, roll on the Green Paper.