“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.

 
 
 
 

How collecting food waste could slow climate change – and save us money

Cleaning up. Image: Getty.

Food waste is a global problem, and one that’s driving climate change. Here in the UK, the country’s biodegradable waste goes to a landfill, where it breaks down to produce methane, a gas that is roughly 30 times as bad as carbon dioxide.

And yet there’s a simple solution. With the exception of garden waste, which often contains lignin from woody matter, all biodegradable materials, including much of our food waste, could instead be processed in anaerobic digesters. This decomposition in an atmosphere devoid of oxygen produces biogas, which can then be used to generate heat and electricity.

This is more or less the same process that takes place in landfill sites, except that the biogas can’t escape from an anaerobic digester as it can from landfill – meaning the breakdown of the organic matter takes place in an environment that is enclosed and controlled.

The result is biogas consisting of 60 per cent methane and 40 per cent carbon dioxide, which can be burnt in order to generate heat or used as a fuel for vehicles. It could also be used to generate electricity after the biogas has been scrubbed, which can then either power the anaerobic digester or be exported to the national grid. The process also produces digestate, a solid and liquid residue that can be returned to farmland as a soil conditioner. The amount of biogas and the quality of digestate varies according to what feedstock is used in the digester.

This process is already widely used both across Europe – particularly in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Austria – and elsewhere globally, particularly in India and Thailand. What's more, this move towards separate food waste collection is already happening in countries outside the UK, and its momentum is increasing according to the World Biogas Association. Already, major cities, including New York, Paris, Oslo, Copenhagen, Auckland, San Francisco, Mexico City and many others are regularly collecting food waste from their citizens. The decisions to do so are usually taken at city level, but enabling legislation from national governments assist in this.


At present the UK is lagging behind. Only 109 local authorities in England, about 33 per cent of the total number, collect food waste as of May 2018, according to the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA). Yet making a separate food waste collection mandatory across the UK and running the food waste through anaerobic digesters, could supply enough biogas to generate 36 per cent of UK electricity, according to a 2007 Friends of the Earth report. This percentage could be increased again if food waste from restaurants, cafeteria and retailers was also collected. 

ADBA’s research also suggests that universal separate household food waste collections would trigger the construction of around 80 new anaerobic digester plants for food waste processing. This would add an extra 187 megawatts equivalent (MWe) of capacity, powering 285,000 extra homes – representing all the homes in a city the size of Glasgow. Data from WRAP suggests that further food waste collection from businesses would add around a further 10 per cent, depending on the quality of the feedstock collected and what exemptions were applied (for example, it might only apply to businesses collecting more than 50 kilograms per week or the lower threshold of 5kg).

A 38 per cent improvement in food waste collection from flats in Ealing alone could generate £26,000 of annual savings for the London borough, £28,000 in revenue for a local anaerobic digester (based on electricity sales to the national grid) and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of around 270 tonnes, found Londoners Lab, a collaborative project consisting of Greater London Authority, University College London, Ferrovial Services Centre of Excellence for Cities and Future Cities Catapult.

ADBA has been campaigning on this issue for a while, but the good news is that the government finally signalled its intention to introduce separate food waste collections in its forthcoming Resources & Waste Strategy, which will ensure that all homes and suitable businesses in England will have access to food waste collections by 2023. The next step, following the government announcement, is a consultation, but it is widely acknowledged that additional funding would be needed by local authorities to achieve this, as the business case isn’t currently strong enough.