THE BLOG

Sorry Boris, the London Rental Standard Just Isn't Enough

30/06/2014 13:04 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 10:59 BST

Rewind a few decades to when the Conservatives, under Margaret Thatcher, were selling off council houses under the Right To Buy scheme. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine, said that home ownership helps to foster "attitudes of independence and self-reliance, the bedrock of a free society".

Many would still agree with that sentiment but, more than 30 years on, our priorities and ambitions have changed dramatically. With the average home in England and Wales now costing almost 10 times the average annual salary, most of us are more concerned with finding rented accommodation that doesn't eat into whatever we've managed to scramble by way of a deposit.

The emergence of the already heavily-criticised London Rental Standard (LRS) is at the very least recognition that tenants need more protection in a sprawling and largely unregulated market.

The Mayor of London's city-wide badge of accreditation is intended to help the quarter of Londoners who rent do so with confidence, and ensure landlords know their responsibilities. It's also an attempt at future proofing because, by the mid-2020s, it's likely that 40% of Londoners will be renting.

The standard unites the seven current landlord accreditation schemes, which will now operate under a single framework. Landlords and letting agents who meet the set of commitments, outlined in the Mayor's standard, will be awarded the badge of accreditation. These commitments are a minimum level of service that renters should demand, such as transparent fees, better property conditions and protected deposits.

Despite the launch of this new badge, major concerns remain about renters' lack of awareness when it comes to their rights. Tenants are a notoriously hard bunch to motivate; too many of them don't know their rights and don't think about them until they have a problem.

For example, a recent survey of renters using SpareRoom revealed that more than half never check if landlords put their deposits in mandatory tenancy deposit schemes. Our research also showed that almost four in 10 tenants could now be renting properties that have out-of-date gas safety certificates, which must be renewed annually by law.

Adding to the challenge is the growing number of amateur and accidental landlords who don't always know their responsibilities. The rogue element of the landlord community is far smaller than most people think - in reality a lack of awareness is the greater risk to tenant safety.

The LRS is a step in the right direction towards combatting this ignorance but tenants and landlords need to know it exists for it to work. Education and promotion play a vital role in making it a success. Whilst the LRS endorses and strengthens existing regulations, the reality is that most rogue landlords won't be aware of the standards and the minority who deliberately flout the regulations will continue to slip through the net. It is crucial that the worst offenders are properly targeted and dealt with when attempting to clean up the market.

It doesn't help that compliance with the LRS isn't mandatory, and landlords have to pay up to £125 for a one-day training course every five years. Good landlords will stump up the money and take the time to understand their obligations, while the bad ones and the ones in the middle - those who aren't professional landlords - probably won't.

The hope is that, in time, the LRS will become the barometer by which landlords and agents are judged, and one of the first questions asked by tenants will be "are you accredited by the London Rental Standard?".

My suspicion, however, is that this goal might be as out of reach as home ownership is for many Londoners.