Bristol’s Living Rent Commission calls for rent control powers

Councillor Tom Renhard is pictured smiling, with College Green and trees in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery & Homes
and Labour Councillor for Horfield ward.

Bristol is now the UK’s most expensive city to rent in outside of London, with the average rent growing by 12.9% annually. In the decade since 2011, the cost of renting privately has grown by 52%, while wages have increased by just 24%. High prices have been compounded by increasing demand, with the population increasing 10% between 2011 and 2021. There are now over 134,000 people currently renting privately in Bristol, representing almost one-third of the city’s population.

Living in quality affordable accommodation is essential for people to live happy and healthy lives. Spiralling costs mean housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, pushing many further away from their place of work, family, and support networks. Ensuring an affordable and fair private rented sector is also essential to our city’s ecosystem, prosperity, and productivity.  

Members of the Living Rent Commission are pictured, smiling, on the ramp outside Bristol's City Hall. Councillor Tom Renhard is pictured on the far left, Mayor Marvin Rees is pictured two people to his right.

In our 2021 manifesto, we pledged to make Bristol a “living rent city” and lobby central government for rent control powers. Since then, we’ve worked across the sector to better support private renters, including the roll out of further landlord licensing schemes, stamping out illegal ‘no DSS’ discrimination, and hosting the first Renters’ Summit to share experiences of renting in Bristol. We’ve also put two motions to Full Council to try to end discrimination against vulnerable tenants and seek cross-party support lobbying the Government for permission to introduce rent controls in Bristol.

Last year we launched the Living Rent Commission to look at issues with Bristol’s private rented sector (PRS) and ways to address the rising costs of renting in Bristol as well as the lack of security that renters face. The commission was made up of sector experts, tenants, and landlords. It has been co-chaired by myself and Professor Alex Marsh from the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol.  The commission heard from sector experts, government representatives and, most importantly, tenants.

There are no simple solutions to a crisis of this scale, and the commission has given us an opportunity to bring organisations together to explore the issues facing renters and the sector, to help us develop an approach that works for Bristol.

The final report, which has been published today, found that there is substantial popular support for rent control to help make renting more affordable, and has called on the council to lobby central government for rent control powers. The national government has recently published the Renters Reform Bill, which sets out their plans to reform the private rented sector and improve housing quality. I set out our thinking on the Bill, welcoming some overdue measures but explaining how it does not go far enough to guarantee decent living standards.

The proposals set out in the Bill will have positive impacts on renters in Bristol and will also ensure clarity for landlords should they come into effect. Our campaign for a fair rental sector has always acknowledged that most landlords provide decent homes and aim to support their tenants.

Armed with the Living Rent Commission report, I have written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, calling on him to devolve powers to Local Authorities so they can better influence the affordability of the local private rented sector. My letter can be found below. The report’s recommendations reflect that the powers to regulate the market come from national government. Therefore, we must work with Westminster to develop any future policy. Working alongside Bristol’s MPs, we’ll ensure that the findings and recommendations from the Living Rent Commission are raised throughout the Renters Reform Bill’s progression through the House.

I will also be taking the report and the recommendations to Cabinet. In the meantime, we will continue to take a firm stance against poor property management standards and will look to continue to increase the supply of new housing in Bristol – adding to the 2,563 homes that were built in the city in 2021/22, including the most new affordable homes in more than a decade, as part of the more than 11,000 built since 2016.