News that the most recent census results found more people renting in London than owning their own homes is not entirely unexpected. Even in the days when it was possible to get a 100% mortgage, when the housing market was more buoyant, private renting doubled in the capital.
There is, of course, much more that must be done to support people into owner occupation - a cut in stamp duty would help, as will the mayor's recent reductions in red tape and a £100m boost for more innovative models of home ownership. Nonetheless, it is time to recognise the vital role renters play in London's housing market and its economy. That's why the mayor recently outlined major proposals on the future of the private rented sector, which aim to build on the aspects which have made it successful.
The mayor's blueprint sets three key challenges. First, how the growth in renting can be harnessed to further boost house-building, creating thousands more homes and jobs; second, how to promote high standards that benefit landlords and tenants; and third, how longer tenancies could be piloted in recognition that many renters want greater security - especially families who represent a 20% growth in the sector.
Moving towards a stronger system of self-regulation for landlords and agents is the best way to protect investment in the sector, while at the same time improving standards. The alternative - more red tape, regulation and rent controls - is unthinkable given the disastrous impact it would have for the economic contribution that the sector makes.
The centrepiece is the mayor's London Rental Standard, with twelve core standards that should be consistent across accreditation bodies - ranging from making sure every tenant has a written contract, to rapid repairs and deposit security. It proposes a major expansion in the number of accredited landlords and agents, and its success will depend on the industry taking the standard and implementing it. It doesn't require new legislation. Local authorities have existing powers to stamp out the very worst landlords who blight the reputation of the sector, including those who have created the blight of 'beds in sheds'.
The other big issue is housing supply. We need to build more homes to buy and to rent. Most of the growth in the private rented sector has come from existing housing stock brought by 'buy to let' investors. This often means converting older houses where reception rooms become bedrooms and bathrooms are shared. It is time for a greater contribution to future growth which should come from purpose-designed 'build to let', offering services such as an on site concierge, where house builders can use build-to-let homes to accelerate delivery. To support this, the mayor is launching a design competition for the best custom-designed, purpose-built private rented accommodation. It could also help to unlock some of the 170,000 homes that have planning consent but which are not being built.
It is clear that top-down regulation will only serve to deter investors at a time when more, not less, investment is needed. Instead, the mayor's proposals aim to work towards an improved private rented offer by putting Londoners and landlords in the driving seat.