Earlier this week shelter published some research which poured some cold water on calls for rent control. Below a Digs member’s looked into the research and responded:
We are always rightly suspicious when an organisation commissions research which it then spins to back up what they’ve been saying all along. That’s what’s happened this week with Shelter’s take on research they commissioned from academics at Cambridge University. Whilst the research itself said “The conclusions, however, are very tentative”, Shelter Chief Executive Campbell Robb said the research gave a “resoundingly clear conclusion” against rent caps.
Why are the conclusions described as ‘tentative’ by the researchers?
Firstly, the research is full of qualifiers. For example the researchers said their “short sharp research project gives an indication of what the impact of the six scenarios might be.” Not what they will be.
Secondly, the research was based on asking landlords and lettings agents to imagine what they would do if something were to happen. If I ask you what you would do if… then you may be able to take a guess, but given that rent control has not existed in the UK since 1989 it’s unlikely the answers are based on experience and instead reflect the perceptions of what rent controls would do. There was no asking tenants what they thought would happen if their rents were controlled either…
Thirdly, the landlords were surveyed online only – as any campaigner or lobbyist knows, it’s very easy to mobilise supporters to respond to surveys, newspaper polls, and consultations. In Waltham Forest, the local renter group found that online responses to the Council’s licensing scheme were heavily against, whereas responses from doorknocking landlords in the Borough were in favour of licensing. One explanation is that the landlord lobby is better able to mobilise their membership to respond online compared to the vast majority of landlords who aren’t members of the landlord lobby and are often in favour of common-sense regulation.
Fourthly, the scenario assumes that landlords will let their homes remain empty rather than sell them. Every home sold by a landlord in a rent controlled system will either go to a landlord who is willing to rent under rent control, or to someone who wants to buy and live in a home. If we want to tackle the housing crisis, then we can’t continue to have high house prices, but sadly, Shelter seem to have conceded the point rather than looking at how we can cool down the speculation of housing in the UK.
Fifthly, Shelter’s rent restraint model doesn’t reflect how rents work. In most tenancies at the moment you will have modest year on year rises. Big increases in rent within a contract are effectively a way to evict tenants. However, when a contract comes to an end and a new contract starts is when a landlord or lettings agent increases the rent to a much higher level.
Finally, by focusing against the case against rent controls (a policy that we’re unlikely to see under the present government), Shelter have potentially alienated many of those housing activists and campaigners who look to Shelter for support.
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