“Enforce the laws we have before creating new ones”: why landlords object to plans for longer tenancies

Residential letting signs in Selly Oak, Birmingham. Image: Getty.

The policy director of the Residential Landlords Association writes.

Growing numbers of families and older people are now living in private rented housing – groups which want to be able to put down roots in the communities in which they live.

The challenge is to ensure the sector can offer longer tenancies to those that want them while retaining the flexibility that others need to access new work and educational opportunities, and also continuing to attract the investment needed to provide these homes.

The English Housing Survey shows that private sector tenants are, on average, living in their homes for almost four years, increasing to 17 years for those aged 75 and above. So the longer tenancies demanded are a reality for many.

Some 10 per cent of tenants in private rented housing have moved because their landlord provided a notice to regain possession of a property, while 3.5 per cent said it was because their property was in poor condition. This is distressing for those tenants – but this does not suggest that many landlords are looking for reasons to get rid of their tenants.

The opposite is true, as landlords prefer stable tenancies than having to be constantly looking for new tenants. Just 1.2 per cent of those in the sector who had moved home in the last three years said it was because they could not afford the rent.

In spite of these statistics, we recognise that tenants have to live from tenancy to tenancy and have a perception of insecurity which we need to tackle. The question is how best to achieve this in a way that works for both tenants and landlords.

As a start, we need to ensure the law works better. Some argue that tenants cannot complain about property conditions because of the threat of eviction using Section 21 powers, the so-called no fault eviction. Councils already have the powers to ensure that this does not happen. What they lack are the resources to properly use them to protect tenants from the minority of landlords who should be rooted out altogether.


Simply getting rid of Section 21 notices would still leave councils under resourced and will not improve property standards. We need to enforce the laws we have before we create new ones which we then fail to enforce.

Longer term tenancies also require much swifter access to justice when something goes wrong. Landlords should rightly have the ability to repossess a property if a tenant is failing to pay their rent or committing anti-social behaviour. The process for doing so is long and difficult and needs to be speeded up if landlords are to have the confidence to grant longer tenancies.

That is why the discussion about longer tenancies need to be linked to the establishment of a new housing court. Tenants and landlords should rightly expect a system that is able to swiftly and effectively respond in the minority of cases where things go wrong. The attention devoted to the removal of Scotland’s equivalent of the Section 21 notice ignores the fact that this came well after the introduction of a new housing court.

We need also to decide how to implement longer tenancies. The government proposes a number of models. One makes a three-year tenancy the default position by law. This would be complex as it requires trying to establish every possible scenario in which a tenant might not want such an agreement, such as students, and how that would work.

The alternative, which we support, is the use of financial incentives. In much the same way as the Treasury taxes sugar and some cars to change behaviour, why not do the same with the private rented sector? Indeed, 63 per cent of landlords have told the RLA that tax relief would encourage them to offer a longer tenancy.

The rental market is changing: it’s still made up largely of young people, but it is becoming more diverse. These groups have different needs and the rental sector needs to retain flexibility in order to meet them. A one size fits all model will not work.

David Smith is policy director for the Residential Landlords Association. It tweets @RLA_News.

 
 
 
 

The Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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