Rent caps and letting agent regulation? MPs thinking about it

Reckon a rent cap or the regulation of letting agents is the stuff of fantasy? Well, unlikely as it might seem, these are amongst the measures being considered by a new government inquiry.

The Communities and Local Government Committee is conducting an investigation into private rental, during which it hopes to build a broad picture of this increasingly important sector.

The cross-party group of MPs will consider a range of factors relating to the rental market. It will consider aspects that affect all actors, including landlords, tenants, and letting agents – and, although the inquiry has not yet opened, its call for submissions gives some hints to the sorts of proposals it might eventually make.

Amongst the Committee’s suggested topics are the quality of housing stock (an issue which is also being addressed in the new Better Homes For Britain campaign), measures to deal with ‘rogue’ landlords, and potential changes to security of tenure. Of particular interest to landlords, however, is likely to be the regulation of letting agents and the possibility of a rent cap.

Why are letting agents a focus?

Letting agents have been in the sights of successive governments. It has long been bemoaned that anyone can set up as a letting agent whenever they like, even if they have no previous experience in the field. It has been suggested that this increases the risks for both landlords and tenants, while making life more difficult for reputable agents.

Although there are several trade bodies to which agents may sign up, it seems increasingly likely that some kind of formal regulation will be introduced.

Is a rent cap likely?

The idea of rent caps might seem far-fetched. It is important, though, to consider the possibility in historical and political context. It is not much more than two decades since the end of registered rents, and tenants across the country still enjoy secured tenancies. But, perhaps more importantly, there have been serious rumblings about the introduction of some form of rent restriction, not just from fringe political groups but amongst mainstream politicians.

The most notable examples of this came during the London Mayoral election campaign, when several of the main candidates advocated a ‘living rent’ system. The fact that the Committee is specifically inviting responses on the topic is an indication of how seriously landlords should take the issue.

How can I contribute?

The Committee wants to hear from all interested parties, and landlords will of course assume a central role.

Written submissions of up to 3,000 words can be emailed to clgev@parliament.uk, and should be received by 11am on 17 January 2013. More detailed guidelines for the submission of evidence to Committees are available here, and you can read more about the inquiry on the Parliament website.