New Welsh Conservative housing spokesperson was last Senedd’s most prolific landlord with seven properties
The Conservatives’ newly appointed Senedd spokesperson for housing is a landlord who has owned or co-owned more properties than any other MS during the last five years.
Janet Finch-Saunders was made shadow minister for climate change, which includes responsibility for housing policy, on Thursday as part of Andrew RT Davies’ post-election reshuffle despite having an interest in rented residential properties.
The choice has been criticised by housing campaigners, who say opposition parties need to push the Welsh Government to take more action against “rogue landlords” and protect vulnerable renters.
Finch-Saunders jointly owns two rented residential properties in Conwy, along with another four commercial properties and another residential property in Menai Bridge, according to the register of interests for the last Senedd term.
During that term, she had also jointly owned three rented residential properties in Llandudno, solely owned one other rental property in nearby Penrhyn Bay, and was a “trustee of a discretionary trust in relation to two residential properties in Llandudno” although those interests have now ceased.
That made Finch-Saunders the most prolific landlord in the last Senedd, ahead of former UKIP MS Caroline Jones who owned six rented residential properties in Port Talbot and Bridgend. The Brexit party’s Mark Reckless was the only other member with more than one rental property.
“With this appointment, the Welsh Tories have told us that the interests of landlords and lettings agencies will be prioritised over the urgent needs of tenants,” Daniel Edwards, chair of the Cardiff branch of the Acorn renters’ union, told Nation.Cymru.
He said: “Although it’s early days in the Sixth Senedd, the Welsh Conservatives have already made their attitude to Wales’ housing crisis clear. We’ve seen Tory members dismiss the epidemic of second homes and a landlord appointed as housing spokesperson.”
Illegal evictions, harassment and the theft of deposits were among situations dealt with by Acorn over the last six months. The group are calling for rent caps, genuinely affordable housing and stronger enforcement of regulation for landlords by giving teeth to the Welsh Government’s Rent Smart Wales policy.
The scheme launched in 2016 requires landlords to register with the Welsh Government and undertake training in a bid to raise the quality of privately rented housing.
Finch-Saunders has spoken out about the scheme and other regulation of landlords. When Rent Smart Wales was launched, she called the policy unworkable and said it risked “putting excessive burdens on landlords.”
In 2019, she said legislation is “skewed against working with landlords to provide much needed good accommodation”.
And, commenting on criticism of the Welsh Government’s decision to suspend evictions during the pandemic in April, the MS said: “So many properties will now be taken out of the rental market Colin to do this and you cannot blame anyone other than Welsh Labour, backed by Plaid Cymru and their lack of support for private landlords.”
Acorns’ Daniel Edwards added: “The failure to address this crisis from politicians at all levels has been stark. We urgently need proper opposition in Wales to ensure Rent Smart Wales actually takes action against rogue landlords. But how can we trust Ms Finch-Saunders to call for more regulation on her own source of income?”
Finch-Saunders’ property interests were raised as part of the Senedd election campaign. Her main rival for the Aberconwy seat, Plaid Cymru’s Aaron Wynne, said: “We need an MS here who gets it, who understands what the daily struggles are like for ordinary people.
“People here are crying out for a fair housing system, not one that is just here to serve the interests of landlords and holiday home owners.”
Finch-Saunders though won the seat with an increased majority and she used her victory speech to hit out at “personal slurs.”
She said: “I have had my family records and declarations in the Senedd pored over and received personal slurs. Manners mean a lot to a lot of people but they cost nothing. I would say to anyone entering into public life to do it with dignity and humility.”
Under Senedd rules, MSs have to declare their interest in any property from which “substantial income” is derived. Substantial income is classed as anything over 10% of the annual basic salary of an MS, which would currently be £6,794.90.
Nation.Cymru asked the Welsh Conservatives for a response but have not yet heard back.