Sim Sekhon believes Theresa May’s view of the Private Rental Sector is somewhat one-sided
In what was obviously a heartfelt speech, delivered at a national planning conference earlier this week, the Prime Minister set out plans to increase the supply of housing in the UK.
There can be few who do not recognise the issue as critical, and the speech included a number of measures which would give councils more powers to build homes where they are needed and incentivise house-builders to crack on with the job, rather than sitting on land. Local authorities in areas where affordability issues are the most severe would get access to finance to help build council homes – a move, no doubt, reflecting the harsh reality that many may never be able to afford the homeownership that Mrs May deems so vital for a stable and secure society.
There was a lot of sense in the speech, and plenty of figures to justify the passion behind the proposals, but one sentence, in particular, bothered me when I first heard it, and it’s still bothering me today. The Prime Minister said that young people were, “Angry when they’re forced to hand more and more of their wages to a landlord to whom their home is simply a business asset.”
In that single sentence, landlords are portrayed as unfeeling and unscrupulous. Yes, the properties we own are business assets because the provision of housing is a business, but it is a legitimate business.
Individuals within this country are encouraged to make the best of their opportunities. They’re encouraged to save and invest wisely, to look towards the future and make provision for their retirement. Many have chosen buy-to-let as the best course of action. Others have looked at below inflation interest rates and invested in property instead. Now they find themselves vilified by a Government and branded as exploitative.
Another quote from the PM’s speech, “tenants are all too often seen as an inconvenient commercial necessity rather than as individuals with rights and needs.” I’m not naïve. There is poor practice and there are bad apples amongst landlords but, surely, this constant barrage of criticism has gone too far.
Like it or not, landlords are a crucial part of the housing market, most are fair and decent, and the Government could take a more constructive approach to working with them. If, as Mrs May says, “tenants are paying more for less and less,” perhaps it’s time for a cool, dispassionate look at the costs of being a landlord. Perhaps it’s time to realise that changing tax regimes has had an impact and that the more ‘commercially-minded’ bigger players are buying up properties formerly let by the small-scale landlords who knew and cared about their tenants.
Our industry is more than capable of adapting to longer tenancies. We can find ways to cope with fees bans. We can adopt licensing and more regulation, and we’ll do it willingly if it will help the housing crisis. But it’s not fair to keep asking landlords and agents to be the villain of the piece. These things happen in a market economy that for decades we’ve been encouraged to embrace. Housing’s issues need a long-term strategic approach not a culture of blame.
The Government needs to work with councils, to work with housebuilders, and to engage positively with the private rental sector. Landlords aren’t opposed to fair rents and long-term tenancies just as long as we’re given the support and regulatory framework that makes delivery of those things affordable.
I believe it’s time to stop the mud-slinging and start a constructive and balanced dialogue.