Campaigners fight for housing action

Welsh government must end the rent rip off

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Campaigners in Cardiff, "the London of Wales," are getting organised to tackle the rent rip-off and fight for an end to the housing crisis.

At a packed meeting called by the Socialist Party, campaigners rages against out-of-control rents - and no wonder. Rents rose by a budget-busting 5.6% last year - far more than house prices, inflation or wages. And many people's income was already stretched to the limit after cuts to benefits and stagnating wages for ordinary people. Councils have reported massive increases in demand for homelessness services in Wales, and those who are managing to hang on to their homes are finding that more and more they have to sacrifice other essential things to keep the landlord at bay.

That's why campaigners in Wales are launching new Housing Action campaign groups to fight to end the housing crisis, starting with a demand that the Welsh Assembly introduces rent control to lower rents to a fair level and scraps rip-off agency fees.

Peter Allen, which boasts that it is the biggest letting agent in Wales, charges nearly £450 in agency fees for a three-person house-share. Then there's renewal fees for many agencies, where tenants are asked to pay up to £100 in some cases just so the agency will print off a new contract, and lots of other sneak charges before finally the struggle at the end to try to get the deposit back. There's no real competition in the market because the big letting-agencies dominate the supply so much that tenants have no choice but to rent through them and pay the exorbitant fees. The only way to end this rip-off is for the Welsh Assembly to abolish upfront fees for tenants completely. Mass movements have forced this out of the Scottish government already.

But abolishing agency fees wouldn't be enough to reduce rents permanently. Agencies would seek to add the costs onto the monthly rents, which are already ballooning. Rents have risen by over £1000 a year since 2010 pushing up housing costs until they swallow on average 40% of our income. Some people pay even more. Nine million people now rent privately, and that figure is set to increase by 2.8million in the next ten years. By then a quarter of all UK residents and half of all adults under 40 are predicted to be rent slaves. Prices that are out of control in the private sector are also having an impact in social housing too, with many housing associations pushing to be allowed to charge so-called "affordable" rents that, at 80% of market value, are higher than current rates. Already, some people are being turned down for a tenancy by some housing associations for being too poor, according to campaigning charity Shelter Cymru. Home-owners who want to actually live in their home instead of treat it like a cash-cow are being priced out as a result of high rental prices forced up by buy-to-let landlords trying to profit from our misery. Rent control is in everybody's interests but the billionaires.

The Welsh Assembly passed the Housing (Wales) Act last year, and the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill is being discussed in the Assembly at the time of writing this petition. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 makes registration for landlords and agents compulsory and the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill makes small changes to the law governing the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants.

Unfortunately, though, neither of these laws represents the bold action necessary to tackle the housing crisis: there is no power created to introduce rent control, and on agency fees the Housing (Wales) Act is toothless. Even making sure that upfront fees are "clearly and transparently communicated to the client" is recommended practice, rather than a legal requirement! We need representatives who are willing to stand up to the vested interests of the property magnates, who cynically sit on landbanks and refuse to build until the price (and the subsidy) is right for them to make massive profits. The problem is that not everybody has an interest in putting an end to the housing crisis. The number of property millionaires has doubled in the last five years, according to property website Zoopla. There are 13 streets in London where the AVERAGE price is over £10 million. We're in this mess because the main political parties which currently have are dominated by the influence of those kinds of people, instead of being linked to the fate of ordinary working-class people. Why haven't MPs done something about sky-rocketing rents? Perhaps because 20% of them are themselves landlords!

We need rent control now! We are calling on the Welsh Assembly to amend these laws to make scrapping upfront fees for tenants and submitting to the decisions of a Fair Rent Tribunal a condition of registering as a landlord or agent. Activists have exploded into action: campaigners have printed stickers to "amend" the To Let signs of the biggest agencies and "Cheater Alan" posters for people to display in the windows of their homes, are starting a fortnight of protests this Saturday (8th August) at 12 midday outside Peter Alan on Crwys Road in Cathays, and are going to trade union branches to ask for support and to the press to demand a bit of coverage! The most imnportant plan, however, that the group of Housing Action campaigners agreed was to call a Wales March for Homes in October to build support for the Wales Housing Action Charter (Attached). Campaigners are writing to all anti-cuts groups and housing campaigns to build support.

We're in a ludicrous position, where access to a basic necessity of life continues to be restricted because our political system is dominated by vested interests linked to the super-rich who have it all. That status quo, though, won't survive. They might have a stranglehold on the wealth but we've got the angry masses, and if we get organised and focus that anger, we can sweep away the opposition of big business and solve the housing crisis.

Ross Saunders


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