Regulation changes are all well and good but where is the social housing?
As any social media post about landlords will attest, there is little room for nuance or reasoned debate in this most thorny of topics.
On the one side, all landlords are scum freeloaders living a life of luxury at the expense of tenants who just might have a home if it wasn’t for said landlords, and on the other side we have the home-trashing, reluctant-to-pay tenant doing all they can to blight the lives of poor landlords who are simply trying to top up their meagre pension pot.
If they’d only dry their clothes outdoors!
There’s an entire genre of television made for either side of the debate, but viewers in their millions are most often presented with a one-sided caricature of a minority of bad tenants whose circumstances we rarely get to discover.
Have they become victims of the current mental health and cost of living crises? Have they another side of the story to tell about their landlords? Who knows. It’s low investment TV with high returns, that’s all that matters.
Whatever your opinion on landlords, it’s clear that many are currently facing huge increases to their outgoings due to increased mortgage interest rates and any necessary adaptations required to ensure compliance with new regulations.
These costs are ultimately falling on the shoulders of tenants, which is a very easy thing to do when there are so few places for them to turn nowadays.
It’s also clear that the two hundred thousand plus private rental households in Wales are made up of decent, hard working people who either choose to privately rent or have absolutely no other choice but to do so because of the undersupply of affordable homes to buy, strict requirements in order to be able to buy, and the shameful lack of social housing available to rent.
At the latest count, in Wales as a whole, over 8,000 people are in temporary accommodation and there are roughly 70,000 households currently on social housing waiting lists.
The Renting Homes (Wales) Act came into force in December 2022, with sweeping changes to the way in which the rental sector operates.
In a nutshell, ‘no fault evictions’, or notice periods, increased from two months to six, on top of a guaranteed six month period of renting at the outset, effectively ensuring that a tenant, now named ‘contract holder’, has a minimum period of a year’s security.
In line with social housing, contract holders now have succession rights, and there are strict rules in place to ensure that properties are fit for human habitation.
Requirements include hard-wired smoke alarms, electrical safety testing and the like which, if not complied with, mean that contract holders will not have to pay rent for periods in which the property is deemed uninhabitable.
Perfectly reasonable, sensible rules most would argue, but there is a sense among landlords that the risks are now too high for it to be a viable financial option.
We’ve all read the reports about over a hundred people fighting for one Cardiff property, while the housing crisis in our Welsh speaking heartlands and desirable coastal locations is never far from the news, but this sweeping change to the entire system impacts communities throughout the length and breadth of Wales and its effects have been quick to play out.
No fault evictions
Torfaen, for example, saw a 400% increase in no fault evictions in the period leading up to the new legislation’s implementation, and this trend is not one that will simply reverse in the coming months.
Along with Newport and Monmouthshire, Torfaen is on the front line of England’s, and most notably Bristol’s, housing crisis, with many families from over the border crossing the Severn in search of cheaper properties in commutable areas which has made house prices soar, further locking tenants in to a completely overlooked crisis.
The argument that every landlord that sells up will mean an extra home available to buy is valid, but these homes won’t be purchased by their current ‘contract holders’ (if we say it enough, it might stick).
The welcome news of 100% mortgages this week, too, won’t do much to ease the situation since these mortgage products will come with strict affordability criteria and credit checks. For so many, the computer will just say no.
This utterly frightening and spiralling shambles, you’d think, might mean that the powers that be would regroup and either hold back on any further legislation that might frighten away remaining landlords or anyone insane enough to consider becoming one in Wales ever again, but by April 2025, newly rented properties in England and Wales are expected to require an EPC rating of C instead of the current E rating.
This is set to be applied to existing tenancies by 2028.
Again, admirable and completely on the side of good; why should any tenant live in a cold, inefficient home and pay over the odds for their utilities?
But when you consider that we have some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, it would be a very safe bet to say that the number of landlords quitting the market will simply worsen.
Welsh Labour’s 2021 election manifesto aimed to address the chronic housing shortage in Wales with a reasonable target to build 20,000 low carbon homes. These were then set to be administered and let by councils and housing associations.
Unsurprisingly, these targets have been left ‘hanging by a thread’, much like the lives of those hopelessly waiting for a home, because of heightened costs of building materials due to worldwide supply chain issues, a severe labour shortage and an ever-shrinking public purse.
Whatever the excuse, we drastically need more social housing to be built to allow people, both young and old, to remain and thrive within their own communities.
We need innovative, cost-effective solutions such as those proposed by Mabon ap Gwynfor, MS for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and some accountability for consistent broken promises.
For the time being, however, and while we await a little more action, we also need to rethink and delay any more burdens placed upon the much maligned yet inescapably vital private rental sector until we actually have alternative homes for the ever-growing victims of policy-led no fault evictions.
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