International Union of Tenants Conference (IUT) 2016 - cooperation across borders
The 20th IUT world congress, held in Glasgow last October, saw 150 delegates from 25 countries discuss whether control of rents are outdated or a necessity - a hot topic in many countries where tight housing markets have caused spiralling private rents.
Magnus Hammar, Secretary General, International Union of Tenants, gives an overview of the conference.
Opening the congress, Kevin Stewart, Scottish Minister for Local Government and Housing, said, 'The Scottish private rented sector is today three times bigger than 15 years ago, representing 14% of the national housing stock. The Scottish Government is reforming the private rented sector to make it more professional and work better. Recent legislation has created a new private residential tenancy to security, stability and predictability for tenants while providing appropriate safeguards for landlords, lenders and investors.'
Scotland has a comparatively progressive housing policy, particularly in social housing and this was noted by the Minister in which he gave a commitment to good housing and tenant participation. More remains to be done in the private rented sector, where tenants are still rather insecure if, say, the house they live in changes ownership, or the landlord announces large rent increases, though the Private Housing Tenancies Act 2016 is a way forward.
The initial rent for new private tenancies is regulated in Sweden and in the Netherlands, and for the majority of private leases in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and Italy.
IUT advocates tenure neutrality, where the consumer is financially indifferent between owning and renting a home. It means the method of financing housing, and the tax system and subsidies do not distort consumer choices between renting and owning.
IUT president Sven Bergenstråhle said: 'In some countries there are huge subsidies for homeowners therefore developers prefer houses for sale. Europe needs subsidies to support decent housing for all, but any subsidy must be tied to conditions that give in lower prices and rents. Otherwise subsidies just contribute to "doping" the prices.
'Many economists argue that deregulation gives a better supply of rental housing, but this rarely happens. It's a myth. Free rent setting for new tenancies hampers mobility of workers and students. What we need is affordable rental housing in the cities where the jobs and education opportunities are.'
Social housing is not the problem but the solution, said Sorcha Edwards, Secretary General of Housing Europe, representing social landlords. 'The private market is blocked; its unaffordability is affecting the purchasing power and competitiveness of cities, local economy and key workers. Most of the buildings in Europe were built between 1946 and 1970. There was a big mobilisation to deliver large proportions of social housing. We now have to push for a similar level.
'According to a Housing Europe study, public spending for housing in the EU decreased from 1.1% of GDP in 2003 to 0.8% in 2012. There is an increasing role of private finance both at EU and national levels, and a "revisualisation" of the social housing sector. Today, according to EU figures, 81 million Europeans are overburdened by housing costs.'
Rent control in the private rental sector was discussed by Dr Marietta Haffner, from Delft University of Technology: 'There are no clear links between the level of regulation and the size of the private rental sector,' said Dr Haffner. 'It's a common argument that tougher regulation of the private rental sector leads to a smaller sector, but my observations show no support for that. Regulations are a way of guaranteeing affordable housing for more people, and make it possible for the tenants to feel more at home. There are also benefits to landlords in the form of better transparency and decreased turnover rates'.
The IUT congress adopted and signed the IUT congress statement, 'We need a 21st century rent control' and are calling for controlled rents in the private rental sector, anywhere in the cities where escalating rents are pricing people out of housing where they live and work.
To find out more information please visit: www.iut.nu/conferences.htm
The Wheatley Group hosted the IUT congress which was sponsored by TPAS and the Scottish Government.
Email: Annabel MacMillan