I will come to this later in my speech, but I fully agree with her. Some of the conditions in which our constituents and especially those who are very vulnerable live, which are described to me and in some of the reports I have read, is despicable. We have got to do something about this and tackle the issue, which is becoming a serious problem across the country—not just in London but, as my hon. Friend says, in Liverpool as well.
The long-term impact of our failure to tackle sky-high rents is a slow erosion of our communities. That is why I brought this debate here because I am worried about what that is doing to our communities. Local people from my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn are being driven out of areas where they grew up and which they love but where they cannot afford to live.
The Conservative Government have wasted so much time, effort and money on schemes such as Help to Buy. I know some people benefit from that, but the vast majority of my constituents have not. We want the Government to build genuinely affordable homes and we need to bring down rents in the private sector. Now we want to make sure the Government do not block mayors such as Sadiq Khan from introducing sensible rent control. That will help people in my constituency from being priced out of London. I feel very strongly about this. I grew up in my constituency and I went to school there, but I can afford to live there. There are thousands like me who were born there, lived there and went to school there, but who feel they can no longer afford to live there.
I will turn now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside about poor housing conditions. Anyone who has held advice surgeries will know that conditions in the private rental sector are the worst of any tenure. One in four privately rented homes is classified as “non-decent”, which should make us hang our hands in shame. That means that an estimated 600,000 children are living in housing that is either damp, dangerous or overcrowded, sometimes lacking in basic facilities. Some 200,000 households are in overcrowded private-rented accommodation, including a shocking 32% in Camden, where I live. That could pose huge challenges for people who have coronavirus or have the symptoms of it and want to self-isolate.
Advice4Renters, a fantastic organisation based in the Brent part of my constituency, highlighted the story of one family who have developed serious health problems as a result of nearly two decades of living in a property that Brent Council eventually declared uninhabitable. The surveyor’s report makes for grim reading—I am sure lots of Members have seen similar reports. It talks about water leaks, black mould, rotten wood, waterlogged brickwork, insufficient heating, loose electrical sockets, long-broken fixtures, cracked walls—the list goes on.
Another corporate landlord who has been sued multiple times by both Camden and Brent left one elderly resident with health problems in accommodation with serious water penetration for more than 15 years. With coronavirus posing the greatest risk to exactly the people I am describing, it is vital that we provide resources to local councils to enforce improvements to their housing.
It is not all gloom and doom. Obviously, there are good landlords. I spoke to a landlord who is going to let his private tenants defer payment until August to ensure that they do not feel nervous and are not living in fear. There are good landlords, and I am grateful for all the good landlords who are showing compassion at a difficult time. They take care of their properties and respect their tenants. One of the most thoughtful responses I received when I emailed my constituents ahead of this debate was from a landlord who keeps rent low. He said that he wants to see tenants’ rights strengthened. He thinks that the market will be better if his tenants have better rights than they have right now. Unfortunately, there are far too many landlords exploiting the lack of protection for tenants, to avoid responsibilities, and who are, in some cases, breaking the law. There are some cases where people have come to my surgery and I say, “They are actually breaking the law.”
One particularly aggressive corporate landlord I am dealing with at the moment—he will remain unnamed, although I am very inclined to name him—has hundreds of properties in my constituency. Constituents have spoken to me about how he is aggressively refurbishing properties to drive out existing tenants and drive up rents.