“The government should regard it as part of the solution”: What residential landlords want from this year’s election

Yay. Image: Getty.

A fifth of all households now live in private rented housing – a figure set to grow to around a quarter in the years ahead. At the election, all the parties need to offer policies that will ensure there is enough supply to meet this demand.

Ultimately, it is the lack of sufficient numbers of homes which drives up rent and reduces choice for tenants. The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has published its manifesto for the rental market, at the heart of which is a need to boost the supply of homes to rent.

Parties of all colours have considered the solution is to encourage a greater role for institutional investment. However welcome this is, history shows that it has failed to provide the homes to rent speedily enough or in the required quantity. The next government needs to provide equal support for those individuals and small companies making up the vast majority of the country’s landlords, and who supply by far the largest bulk of rented accommodation.

To help develop new homes, the government should sell-off small plots of unused public sector land. These often become eyesores and magnets for anti-social behaviour: they are too small to be of interest to corporate developers but ideal for landlords to develop.

Research for the RLA has found that 46 per cent of landlords would be interested in developing on small brownfield sites. As the Local Government Information Unit and the Federation of Master Builders have noted, “we will not build the homes we need in the UK on large sites alone”


But it is not just quantity that matters; quality too is key. From next year new regulations come into force requiring private rented homes to meet certain energy efficiency standards – and our members have said that they are ambitious to ensure their homes are as energy efficient as possible for their tenants.

The problem they face is that around a third of private rented homes were built before 1919, making them some of the hardest to treat properties. Following the collapse of the Green Deal scheme there is now no framework to support the delivery of the new targets.

The next government should look to Scotland which has recently introduced new interest free loans for landlords and homeowners to make energy improvements to their properties. We propose that any work a landlord carries out on their property which is recommended on an Energy Performance Certificate be classed as tax deductible.

For many tenants, the biggest upfront cost associated with renting is the deposit. Every time a tenant moves from one rental property to another they have to raise new funds for a second deposit, because of the time lag in retrieving their old one.

The next government should commit to working with the industry to develop a new deposit trust. This would allow tenants to seamlessly transfer deposits between tenancies. It is a simple idea, but one which for tenants would make a substantial difference when moving.

For those in receipt of benefits, more needs to be done to help them secure a rental home. Whitehall should stop believing that it knows best, and enable tenants to decide, where they feel it is best for them, to have the housing element of Universal Credit paid directly to their landlord. This right was taken away following the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance system despite being very popular with tenants and backed by Shelter.

We are also calling too for the next government to look urgently at the lending practices of many buy-to-let mortgage providers. Figures produced for the RLA have found that two thirds of the major lenders do not permit landlords to rent property to benefit claimants.

For too long the private rented sector has been viewed as part of the housing problem. The next government should instead work with the sector and regard it as part of the solution.

Alan Ward is Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association. It tweets @RLA_News. Its manifesto for the private rented sector is available on its website.

 
 
 
 

America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.