“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.

 
 
 
 

To make electric vehicles happen, the government must devolve energy policy to councils

The future. Image: Getty.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that at least a quarter of councils have halted the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with no plans to resume its installation. This is a fully charged battery-worth of miles short of ideal, given the ambitious decarbonisation targets to which the UK is rightly working.

It’s even more startling given the current focus on inclusive growth, for the switch to EVs is an economic advancement, on an individual and societal level. Decarbonisation will free up resources and push growth, but the way in which we go about it will have impacts for generations after the task is complete.

If there is one lesson that has been not so much taught to us as screamed at us by recent history, it is that the market does not deliver inclusivity by itself. Left to its own devices, the market tends to leave people behind. And people left behind make all kinds of rational decisions, in polling stations and elsewhere that can seem wholly irrational to those charged with keeping pace – as illuminted in Jeremy Harding’s despatch from the ‘periphery’ which has incubated France’s ‘gilet jaunes’ in the London Review of Books.

But what in the name of Nikola Tesla has any of this to do with charging stations? The Localis argument is simple: local government must work strategically with energy network providers to ensure that EV charging stations are rolled out equally across areas, to ensure deprived areas do not face further disadvantage in the switch to EVs. To do so, Ofgem must first devolve certain regulations around energy supply and management to our combined authorities and city regions.


Although it might make sense now to invest in wealthier areas where EVs are already present, if there isn’t infrastructure in place ahead of demand elsewhere, then we risk a ‘tale of two cities’, where decarbonisation is two-speed and its benefits are two-tier.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Monday that urban mobility will be an issue for overarching and intelligent strategy moving forward. The issue of fairness must be central to any such strategy, lest it just become a case of more nice things in nice places and a further widening of the social gap in our cities.

This is where the local state comes in. To achieve clean transport across a city, more is needed than just the installation of charging points.  Collaboration must be coordinated between many of a place’s moving parts.

The DfT announcement makes much of open data, which is undoubtedly crucial to realising the goal of a smart city. This awareness of digital infrastructure must also be matched by upgrades to physical infrastructure, if we are going to realise the full network effects of an integrated city, and as we argue in detail in our recent report, it is here that inclusivity can be stitched firmly into the fabric.

Councils know the ins and outs of deprivation within their boundaries and are uniquely placed to bring together stakeholders from across sectors to devise and implement inclusive transport strategy. In the switch to EVs and in the wider Future of Mobility, they must stay a major player in the game.

As transport minister and biographer of Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman has been keen to stress the founding Conservative philosopher’s belief in the duty of those living in the present to respect the traditions of the past and keep this legacy alive for their own successors.

If this is to be a Burkean moment in making the leap to the transformative transport systems of the future, Mr Norman should give due attention to local government’s role as “little platoons” in this process: as committed agents of change whose civic responsibility and knowledge of place can make this mobility revolution happen.

Joe Fyans is head of research at the think tank Localis.