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LSE: “Rent control is not the easy answer”

Rent controls and similar policies which are thought to work well in other countries cannot be easily replicated in the UK’s private rented sector, according to findings from a new interim report by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The report was commissioned by the National Landlords Association (NLA) in order better to understand the interventionist policy proposals that were put forward during the General Election.

It looks at evidence from the UK as well as from other countries where stronger regulatory policies are already in place, including Germany, Ireland, San Francisco, New York and the Netherlands.

The report suggests that in Ireland – which apparently provided the model for the Labour Party’s rent control proposals – controls introduced in the past few years have had very limited effect. The country is experiencing a housing crisis, with rapidly rising rents and a near-standstill in new housing production.

In Germany – often cited as the best example of a country with a stable PRS – the system of indefinite security and in-tenancy rent stabilisation has in the past been cushioned by low house prices and demand. Moreover, initial rents can be well above current market levels in high-demand areas.

In San Francisco and New York the main beneficiaries are older middle class households and the young hardly get a look in.

Carolyn Uphill, chairman of the NLA, said: “The report is required reading for Labour leadership and London Mayor hopefuls, who seem to be ignoring both academic evidence and the overwhelming rejection of similar policies by the electorate last month.

“Private rented sectors in many countries, regulated or not, are facing major problems in high demand areas. Market fundamentals cannot just be regulated away.”

Kath Scanlon of LSE London said: “In light of the various proposals put forward before the General Election, we were asked to explore evidence from other countries about how rent controls and other regulatory policies affect the private rented sector.

“We found clear evidence that inflexible controls reduce supply, but the strongest message was that what may work in one country cannot simply be transferred to a different market and institutional environment.”

During the election there were also calls to abolish business tax relief for buy-to-let, alongside the introduction of rent controls. However, the LSE report found that where rent controls are already in place the negative impacts are usually offset by a more favourable tax treatment of landlords – an area which the UK falls behind in comparison with other countries.

“The taxation of buy-to-let is a touchy subject for some, even though landlords in the UK receive no special treatment compared to other businesses,” said Uphill, “This report reinforces why successive governments have chosen to treat landlords as businesses. Doing so encourages best practice and, above all, helps to ease the housing crisis.”

LSE’s final report, due to be published later this year, will examine London in more detail to see specifically how renters in the capital would be affected by various proposals for change.

LSE’s interim report can be downloaded at www.landlords.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/new-interim-report-the-london-school-economics-lse-on-rent-controls.

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