Buy to Let landlords have been the target of some vitriolic campaigns recently, not least from housing charities and the likes of the Guardian newspaper with countless anti-landlord articles published recently, such as this one: “Private renters rights are stuck in the dark ages, Citizens Advice warns” (13 Jan 2015).
What most of the journalists writing this stuff fail to point out is that the vast majority of private tenants are very happy with their landlords and their accommodation, which gives them value for money, flexibility, clean, safe and modern housing.
By far the majority of problems in the sector come from the socially assisted sector – the around 13 per cent of out-of-work and the 10 per cent of working private tenants claiming Housing Benefit. (Who Lives in the Private Rented Sector report Jan 2013)
As private landlords have increasingly taken on the mantle of housing what was traditionally the preserve of councils – private renting overtook social housing on 2013 – the inevitable problems arise from the challenges of this segment of the market.
Also, it’s in this segment where you find the rogue operators – a small minority of slum landlords in a small segment of the private rented sector (PRS) that get the whole industry tarred with the same brush.
Local authorities are quite rightly concerned about the activities of these rogue operators in the more challenging parts of their boroughs, but many are resorting to “sledge hammer” strategies, blanket licensing throughout their boroughs using the “selective” licensing option under the 2004 Housing Act.
This means that ALL landlords must then be licensed and pay £500 per property every five years (or more in some areas) on the pretext that this will control anti-social behaviour and the bad landlords.
This has led to something like 35 councils to bring in, or are in the process of bringing in, this Draconian measure. The upshot of this is it creates great antagonism between the landlords and the councils in every borough involved, when in fact they should be cooperating with each other to provide much needed accommodation. The debacle of Enfield, where a single landlord funded a judicial review of their proposed scheme at the High Court and succeeded in blocking it, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Enter Manchester City Council, who it seems have found another way, and what appears to me at first sight, a far better way.
Here, council bosses are to launch a radical ‘zero tolerance’ crackdown on slum landlords, something all good landlords want to see. They are considering asking the government for new powers to give good, accredited landlords a tax break – and take tougher action on the bad ones.
According to the Manchester Evening News (MEN), Manchester City Council want to introduce ‘tailored’ powers to deal with the ‘small number’ of rogue landlords within the city, arguing it is currently restricted by a one-size-fits-all approach from central government.
That, to my mind, is a breath of fresh air as far as councils dealing with these problems are concerned. Manchester is looking to work with their private landlords, not against them, and I hope it is an example to be followed by others in the future.
Tom Entwistle, January 2015