A critique of the Communication Workers Union's rent control proposals
Rent controls are firmly back on the political agenda. At the national level the reintroduction of rent controls is now official Labour Party policy. At the London level Mayor Sadiq Khan calls for their reintroduction as well. Politicians, however, are in this case merely following a shift in the Overton Window which has already happened. In recent years, various high-profile authors, such as Owen Jones (2014) and Danny Dorling (2014), have made the case for bringing back rent controls in one form or another, as have various campaign groups and national media outlets.
However, no matter how popular they are, rent controls are not and could not be a solution to the UK’s housing crisis. This paper will reiterate the theoretical and empirical case against rent controls, and will then move on to suggest an alternative which would genuinely address the problem of escalating rents. It will use the CWU report as a starting point. Most authors who call for rent controls do not present a detailed policy argument. They merely describe the problem of high rents, and then present rent controls as a self-evident solution. They tend to see the case for rent controls as so obvious that it requires no further explanation, and assume that opponents of rent control are either acting in bad faith, or are just not interested in the problem.
This paper featured in City AM and author Kristian Niemietz appeared on BBC Radio Scotland to discuss the report’s findings.