Besides the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, the ‘60s were a time of great change in the political landscape of renting. For one thing, a division formed between the lefty hippies and the centre-right machiavellians of the Labour party. With the advent of the 1964 Wilson government, Old and New Labour were born along with a rebranding of the party as no longer the representatives of council tenants but innovators of rent in the nation of homeowners. Dick Crossman, the Labour Housing Minister under Wilson and good ol’ commie hunter, closed the door on decades of Labour’s alignment with social housing when he claimed that, in fact, “we only build council houses where it is clear they are needed.”
Following the inroads instigated by their conservative predecessors, a new institution was born in the form of the Rent Officer Service. Transcending the fragmentary and seesawing reforms that had been batted back and forth under previous administrations, the new service was designed to encourage setting rents on a case by case basis, rescinding control from government in the hope of increasing flexibility and stimulating the market.
The Rent Act of 1965 allowed for the appointment of Rent Officers. Appointed by the local authority, the role includes maintaining a register of fair rents and setting the cap on the maximum amount in regulated tenancies. Beyond this, it’s the Rent Officer’s job to determine local housing allowance by assessing rent levels in the PR sector, and then to advise the local authorities of the appropriate limit payable in subsidies for housing benefits.
So by establishing this quasi-independent body of regulators made up of the likes of retired military personnel and former estate agents, the idea was to streamline the process of setting rents by directing greater focus on the specific supply and demand in a particular neighbourhood.
The institution is alive and kicking today, and the famous brown paper ‘Manual of Rent Regulation’ has become a courtroom favourite among barristers representing landlords and tenants and remains a staple of the rent.works office coffee table.
The bottom line was this new group of experts were brought in to replace the tried, tested and (eventually) toppled formulas of the oldskool ‘fixed-rate’ legislation which had failed to really take off. So rather than the somewhat ambitious one-size-fits-all approach of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the ‘60s hailed in a period of localised inspection and accounts. Where before you could have had a carbon monoxide cesspit overlooked and lumped together with a spotless Fulham palace, the new, shiny rent bible ensured the “age, character, locality and state of repair of the dwelling” were taken into account.
Oh, and all that business about Rachmann was tied and bowed for the history books. The ‘65 Act made it an official offence for any over-zealous landlords to evict a tenant within-lease without a court order.
The beginning of rent as we know it was on the horizon.