Why it’s time to stop stereotyping and demonising landlords

The keys to a property

Calum Davies, Policy & Public Affairs Officer for the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) Wales

Considering my job, I’m used to seeing plenty of negative views expressed about landlords – who seem to be up there with traffic wardens in levels of popularity – but I felt I must respond to a piece by Daniel Edwards published on this website. Mr Edwards seems to write from a perspective that the private rented sector (PRS) is inherently problematic and landlords are heartless, greedy, and ungoverned when this misconception could not be further from the truth.

Let’s start where he ends. There are a handful of callous landlords, even criminal operators, out there. However, Mr Edwards’ solutions do not address their behaviour but do expect good landlords to take a financial hit on the assumption they can afford it (more on this later). You can also rest easy as tenants are not outnumbered or out-organised by landlords – organisations that represent tenants far outnumber those that advance landlord interests. Though the NRLA does seek to make life easier for landlords, we don’t seek to do so at the expense of tenants. We do not want to pit landlords and tenants against each other, which is more than can be said for some.

It is suggested that tenants are ordinary, working-class people, whereas landlords are not. This stereotypes both parties: there are plenty of tenants across the country that have white-collar jobs (I am one of them) and landlording is not uncommon among those from working-class backgrounds either. 10% of landlords are tenants themselves, renting while they let out their former home. Let us not forget that there are more than two million landlords in the UK. Are we to believe they are all uncaring, landed gentry who sit on their profits through minimal effort as suggested by Mr Edwards (landlord homes “are more likely to be Pembrokeshire manor houses”)?

Elsewhere in the piece, the Welsh Government and PRS interests are accused of being in hand-in-hand when it comes to policy. This is fanciful. Trust me – my life would be simpler if that were the case. Mr Edwards’ case appears to rest on one of the NRLA’s predecessor organisations meeting the First Minister at the Welsh Labour conference. But conferences are opportunities for politicians to engage with stakeholder groups to learn about issues on the ground across a variety of industries.

It is also unfair to say the Welsh Government have created a hostile environment for tenants when they have guided three Bills – and another one right now – through the Senedd, all of which further regulate and restrict what landlords can do and enhancing tenants’ rights to the extent the PRS is unrecognisable compared to a decade ago, with further changes already scheduled.

If anything, it is a hostile environment for landlords that has emerged over the last few years, cajoled by extreme examples in the media. All the while, this ignores all those bad tenants that cause havoc for neighbours, damage property, and frighten other tenants.

To say landlords could not care less about their tenant is incredibly unfair. Research has found how landlords are going the extra mile in helping their tenants during the coronavirus pandemic with rent reductions and deferrals, with many planning to take the hit themselves to ensure their tenants do not fall into debt or risk becoming homeless. Such generalisation is unfair to good landlords.

 

Unfair

Mr Edwards “demands” six changes from the Welsh Government. Here is my response:

  1. The Welsh Government is already reforming possession and using emergency powers to make lasting policy changes would be inappropriate and anti-democratic. Property rights are enshrined in human rights laws so some provision must be made to allow landlords to take possession as recently mentioned by a Senedd Committee report.
  2. The demand to forgive rent debt is again something that could breach human rights. It will be unfair to good tenants as there will be some who took advantage of the “evictions ban” and simply stopped paying rent when they could still afford it. This would discriminate against all those who made sacrifices to meet their housing costs and those on benefits.
  3. This report shows why rent controls will be disastrous for both landlords and tenants as they create the very problem they are designed to prevent amongst others.
  4. We are urging all landlords who benefit from the Tenancy Saver Loans to refrain from evicting their tenant. Given arrears caused by coronavirus will be addressed, there is no reason to seek possession if this is the only issue. There is nothing for landlords to gain from an unnecessary eviction or empty property so they would never take such a decision lightly.
  5. The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 is being enforced and nothing suggests otherwise.
  6. The NRLA is proud our tenant arrears loan proposal has been adopted in Wales. It is an equitable settlement that does not pass on a tenant’s debt onto the landlord and provides a sustainable means of paying it back. It makes eviction less likely as the key concern of the debate is addressed. Indeed, the courts are already prioritising anti-social behaviour and pre-Covid arrears cases. Also, the loan scheme has been widely welcomed, not heavily criticised, and to describe it as a landlord profit saver is disingenuous and dismissive of its many benefits which include amongst them being able to keep tenants in their home.

Help

Although there are a few more things to say in reply to Mr Edwards’ article, I fear this one is running overlong as it is so I will wrap this up. One of the most dispiriting aspects of pieces like Mr Edwards’ is how it whips up tensions between landlords and tenants whereas what is needed is a lasting settlement that recognises there are bad tenants and landlords, so policy should seek to restrict them and free their responsible peers.

There seems to be a strand of thought that landlords should be made to absorb all these losses themselves. It could be argued that landlording is an investment and with that comes risk. But when government is preventing you from exiting that market too, then this becomes a racket.

This matters because, according to a UK Government study last year, 94% of Buy-to-Let properties are owned by individuals. Of these, 45% own just one rental property, around a third are retired, and nearly half of them bought the property to boost their pension. The median gross income for such investors is £15,000 a year (assume £10,000 after costs), which is around 42% of the landlord’s total income. Landlords cannot afford to take the hit suggested. If they were forced to, it could have dire consequences for the provision of PRS housing when a shortage of social housing exists.

Throughout the pandemic, the NRLA have been working with national, devolved, and local government to support tenants: from an arrears loan to increased local housing allowance to housing the homeless, we have always striven to help our landlords by liberating tenants through ensuring they get the help they need to sustain tenancies. We might end up with a more harmonious PRS if that principle can be recognised by everyone rather than pitting landlords and tenants against each other when they both need to other to survive.

You can read the NRLA’s guide to managing arrears and sustaining tenancies, written with other housing organisations, here.

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