Belfast needs rent controls says Green Party’s Mal O’Hara

The housing crisis in Belfast is only going to get worse if rent controls are not introduced, warns a Belfast councillor.

Addressing Belfast City Council on the 1st of November, the Green Party’s Mal O’Hara said “Almost 12,000 people are on the housing waiting list in this city. We need to act with urgency[…] We cannot risk becoming like Dublin or London.” Rent controls would limit the price a landlord can let a property for. The rental market was regulated in the UK until 1989, and similar laws are currently in place in Paris and Berlin.

He noted the rising cost of rent in the city, up by 8 percent for apartments and 4 percent for houses. He raised concerns that the problem would be exacerbated by Ulster University’s new Belfast campus – “We have seen how that’s impacted on the Holylands… when some unscrupulous landlords realise they can make a heftier buck renting to students and young professionals.” He also mentioned that those aged 16-25 would be disproportionately affected by the housing crisis.

There is currently a Private Tenancies Bill in development, introduced by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey. It aims to provide better protection for renters and limits rent increases to once a year. O’Hara acknowledged the Bill but said “it is not rent controls or a rent cap – surely we can do better.”

In response, Sinn Fein’s John Gormley defended the Private Tenancies Bill. He said that “the issue of rent control is firmly in the sights of the Minister for Communities[…] The Minister acknowledged […] that the current Bill does not include rent control […] and she said that would require a more in depth piece of work”.

Th councillors were in agreement that rent controls need to be introduced, but no concrete plans were made to bring in legislation.