Emerson on rent control

Sir, – Newton Emerson's analysis on rent regulation was surprisingly ill-informed and as populist as any left-wing offering ("Rent control unlikely to defy laws of economics", November 4th).

Arguing against rent regulation, he cites the example of Sweden, and refers to their rent controls. As a former resident, I can attest to their dysfunctional housing system. However, the Swedish Tenants’ Associations note that if rents were set by the market they would rise by up to 50 per cent, causing more problems than it might solve.

The regulation of rent exists in most European countries. Neither rent regulation nor lifetime tenancies (“another policy known to strongly deter all types of landlords”, apparently) has discouraged the rapid expansion into Europe of large-scale institutional investors building housing for rent.

A better solution for ensuring rental supply is not allowing a free-for-all on rents – which will increase homelessness – but retaining small and medium landlords in the market through fairer tax treatment than they currently get.


Mr Emerson also urges planning deregulation to increase housing supply. The number of houses built depends mostly on whether there is a market for them, not on the planning system. We arguably have a more deregulated planning system now than when we built 90,000 houses annually. Planning deregulation leads to poor social and economic outcomes, not necessarily more housing.

His most egregious error is referencing economists and their pithy insights. In my experience, most economists have never set foot on a building site, but will expound at length about development; could not put together a bill of quantities, but can talk all day about the costs of construction; and would not know one end of a residual valuation from the other, but will happily support price-inflating planning changes. Their housing expertise also contributed significantly to the last Great Economic Unpleasantness.

It seems Mr Emerson has been drinking Kool-Aid with the barstool housing experts and is now tipsy on half-baked opinion instead of being sober on fact, as he usually is.

– Yours, etc,


Lecturer in housing,

Technological University