Councillors have asked for a report into private rents in Brighton and Hove in the hope that they will be granted the power to enforce rent controls.
London mayor Sadiq Khan and Bristol mayor Marvin Rees have called on the government to give them the power to intervene in the rental market.
The request in Brighton and Hove came from Labour councillor Tobias Sheard and fellow councillors backed his request for a report to assess rental costs and the potential effects of rent controls.
One even described agents encouraging prospective tenants to “gazump” each other by putting in an offer to pay more than the advertised rent to improve the chances of being offered a tenancy.
The report on rent controls would also look at a long-term strategy to improve conditions for renters in Brighton and Hove.
Councillor Sheard spoke about searching for a flat with three friends last month at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Housing and New Homes Committee meeting yesterday (Wednesday 20 September).
He said that one of the flats that he looked at was “claustrophobic”. It had three bedrooms with small rooms but no garden or balcony and the price was £1,820 a month.
Councillor Sheard, who is originally from the Isle of Wight, spoke to family friends who said that they were paying £1,200 for a three-bedroom house with a garden and private driveway.
He said: “According to Zoopla’s rental prices index, not only does Brighton and Hove currently have the highest rent prices outside of Greater London but we also have rent prices so high that six separate London boroughs have lower average rent prices, some coming in £250 a month lower than Brighton.
“The only difference between us and Hillingdon is that if you work in Hillingdon, you are granted the London wage uplift to help pay those higher costs.”
Councillor Sheard criticised the amount of new housing being built by private companies that ended up as “nothing more than a form of investment”.
Labour councillor Bruno De Oliveira said that the high cost of housing was a “burden on our wellbeing, mental and physical health”.
Fellow Labour councillor Faiza Baghoth said that the cost was putting off doctors from coming to Brighton and Hove. She said that the issue came up in a Heathwatch meeting.
Surgeries in Brighton and Hove have complained in the past about the difficulties faced when trying to recruit family doctors – and Brighton and Hove has a below-average number of GPs (general practitioners).
Green councillor Ellen McLeay said that she would like to see rent controls and suggested investigating different rent control models in European cities to establish which would improve affordability.
Labour councillor Gill Williams, who chairs the committee, agreed.
Conservative councillor Anne Meadows was against the motion, saying that landlords also faced increasing costs to improve standards and pressure on mortgage payments.
She said: “Instead of 10 people going for a property, there will be 25 to 30. I’m just not sure that’s what you’re going for.
“At the moment, it’s supply and demand. If there is a demand on the supply available, that is what is pushing up prices.”
Labour councillor Andrei Czolak said that the situation described by Councillor Meadows was already happening. When he tried to move last month, there were 15 to 20 people at the various viewings.
Councillor Czolak said that the properties were not of the quality that he expected for the budget set by him and his partner who were earning “an above average” income.
Councillor Czolak said: “The real outrage I felt has come about recently. You view a property. Before you leave, you have a letting agent say to you, you can put your offer in—an offer on rent.
“It is on the market for X amount. That should be what it goes for.”