As we enter the run-up phase – the last 12 months – to a general election it’s perhaps not surprising that the politicians have picked on renting as a major election issue.
Given there are likely to be potentially around 10 million UK voting tenants come 7th May 2015, any party which can make a major impact here can reap substantial rewards in terms of votes.
Constantly rising house prices and the growth of buy-to-let investing over the last 15 years or so is beginning to result in substantial pool of resentment coming from quite a large section of the community.
It’s a generational thing as well; whereas the “Baby Boomer” generation, with regular work and rising incomes found it easy to get onto the housing ladder, the situation for the so called “Generation Rent” has been very different.
Government initiatives such as the Help to Buy schemes are helping but until the supply of affordable housing increases substantially, the current situation will not change. More and more people will need (or be forced) to rent, some for the whole of their lives.
Understandably tenants, particularly those with families, seek security of tenure and affordable rents. However, this needs to be balanced by the landlord’s need to make an economic return on their investment whilst being able to maintain the property to a good standard from the returns they get, and also have the ability to evict tenants if trouble arises.
Private landlords are not obliged to house all and sundry, they are not social landlords as are councils or housing associations and government should not see them as such.
Figures show that over 90% of private tenancies run long-term, that private tenant satisfaction ratings constantly beat those in the social sector, and that good landlords strive to keep good tenants in their properties as long as they possibly can.
Unfortunately, there is a section of the landlord community operating on the fringes of the law, they let properties which don’t meet modern safety standards and they treat their tenants abominably.
Adequate regulations exist to drive these landlords out of business, but two major factors enter into the equation here: they often house tenants that other landlords and even the social housing sector want to avoid, and secondly, local authorities just don’t have the resources to enforce the law against them or take on their tenants if they do.
Our lead article “Politicians to Target Tenants” spells out the issues in more detail, the salient ones being Labour policy to bring back a form of rent control and long-term tenancies, perhaps not to the same degree, but along the lines we saw under the Rent Acts which held sway for much of the 20th Century.
In my view, cynical attempts by politicians to win votes by telling tenants what they want to hear, rather than taking a balanced long-term view on tenancy law and the landlord – tenant relationship, will inevitably work against tenants and landlords.
We will again enter a phase of disinvestment and decline in the supply of rental properties which we saw under the Rent Acts. The last 20 years has seen growth in the sector rise from its Rent Act nadir of around 7% in the 1980s to 18% now, and something approaching 20% of the housing market by 2016.
A government that really has the interests of tenants in mind, which means encouraging landlords to continue to invest, and stamping out bad practice wherever it occurs, will not upset the delicate balance in maintaining landlord – tenant relationships afforded by the proven success over more than 20 years of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
Tom Entwistle, editor.