Landlord bashing appears to be reaching new heights at the moment. The activity has never been one that has been popularly revered, and probably ranks alongside used car salespeople, journalists and dare I say it, politicians, all at the bottom end of the scale of public respect.
The very mention of the word “landlord”, to many carries a 19th century Dickensian era image and stigma; the Scrooge type money grubbing miser, after every penny, and out to exploit rather than help, compounded in the 60s by the likes of criminals like Peter Rachman – images which are hard to erase.
But the typical landlord today is no longer the stereotype wealthy landowner; more likely the striving middle class worker wanting to improve his or her pension nest egg and working hard to provide a good future for the family, whilst at the same time providing a very valuable community service.
I was amazed to see the bitterness and pure vitriol poured onto the pages (on-line comments pages) by tenants and others following a recent article in the Daily Telegraph by Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association. The article was pointing out the success of the private rented sector and buy-to-let and the public service which landlords provide – surprisingly, it seems some don’t agree!
As stepping onto the housing ladder has become much more difficult, it is perhaps inevitable that attitudes will harden; that so called “Generation Rent” will resent the situation they are in, especially those who have resigned themselves to it.
Anti-landlord attitudes persist and are sustained through certain charitable organisations constantly highlighting the activities of a minority of rogue landlords, as if they apply to all. In fact tenants’ complaints from social housing tenants usually exceed those in private housing.
In addition, press reports exaggerate the money to be made from renting, usually quoting only gross yields. In fact when running costs are taken into account, immediate returns often can compare unfavourably with the stock market, and landlords have a lot more hassle.
Few tenants appreciate the sheer hard work and stress that the average small amateur landlord (by far the majority) experience when saving for, preparing, letting and managing their buy-to-let.
The tenant charities it seems refuse to recognise that there are probably just as many rouge tenants, if not more, than there are rouge landlords.
It seems they fail to appreciate the risks that all landlords face when they let to a stranger: despite taking all necessary precautions landlords can be stuck with a non-paying tenant, often trashing their property for many months – 9 to 12 months to remove a bad non-paying tenant is by no mean uncommon.
With little hope of recovering their losses, and risking losing their investment property if they can’t afford the mortgage payments, landlords are often failed by an expensive, slow and inefficient legal process where decisions often appear to defy logic.
Despite lots of government encouragement, the industry still fails to attract large corporate investors in rental housing. The fact is, just like local councils, companies find it less than cost effective to provide the services that the large army of private landlords does virtually for free.
Small private landlords often do all their own repairs and maintenance, cleaning and preparing their properties between tenancies, and don’t charge for their time. In fact they can’t even claim their own time against income, for tax purposes.
Yes, at the fringes of the activity some housing stock is in desperate need of improvement. But this is also true of some council housing as well.
Financial incentives to make improvements and more rigorous attempts by local government to actually enforce the existing rules against the minority of delinquent landlords; this would be far preferable and more effective than creating more and more rules and regulations.
There will always be a small proportion of rogue landlords, just as on the other side of the coin, there are many rogue tenants.
Good landlords decry the rogues as much as anyone else and constantly lobby the authorities to do something about them. There are adequate laws in place to bring rogues to justice, but enforcement is where government falls down.
Despite the problems, and the landlord-tenant relationship will always create some, most independent opinion surveys show that by far the majority of private tenants are very happy with the service their landlords are providing.
I think landlords and landlord representatives should seriously consider a major campaign to redress the balance here; to put the other point of view across to the general public and to highlight the good work that landlords are doing in their communities.
Tom Entwistle – Editor
27 June 2014