The starting gun has been fired on the General Election campaign and the political slanging match has already begun.
Amidst the inevitable mudslinging, there are two parties that are in agreement when it comes to private rented housing.
Despite popular myth, good landlords and tenants want the same things: a system that gets rid of the crooks who call themselves landlords; more homes to rent in the sector to give tenants greater choice over their housing needs; a form of tenure that is fair to both tenants and landlords; and a system in which tenants take control of their finances.
The RLA today launches its manifesto for 2015 which provides constructive, effective and pragmatic solutions to the problems that landlords and tenants face on a daily basis.
Let’s take for example the criminals operating within our sector. While some suggest that a national register of landlords will root out the criminals, it is clear that only those operating within the law would sign up. The end result would be that tenants across the country continue to endure misery as the crooks continue to operate unnoticed.
The RLA is calling for a simple change to council tax forms so that households have to identify the tenure of their property, together with details, where rented, of their landlord or letting agent. Where the information is not supplied it would immediately set alarm bells ringing and provide councils with the intelligence they need to stop the criminals in their tracks.
It is also simply a myth to think that landlords want to evict their tenants: what benefit is it to them?
There are already protections in place to guard against retaliatory evictions, but too few tenants know about it. The cross party Communities and Local Government Select Committee warned in 2013 that further legislation would serve only to “stunt the market.” Official figures show that average tenancies in the sector are now almost 4 years, but we can still do more.
The RLA proposes that tenants should have a contractual right to extend their tenancy for six or twelve months at a time. Under this model landlords would only be able to regain their property under certain circumstances, such as wanting to sell it, or if their tenant failed to pay their rent on time. With political support, we could implement this now without the need for new legislation.
And when it comes to the payment of rents, the RLA is in agreement with Shelter, Crisis, Citizens Advice Bureau and the Money Advice Trust about tenant choice on Welfare Reform. The RLA firmly believes that if tenants are to be at the forefront of government changes, to help them budget they should be given a choice as to who should receive the housing element of universal credit – themselves or their landlords. Tenants want it and it cannot be right that Government policy prevents them from making what for many would be a rational decision.
The private rented sector is a success story.
It is the only housing tenure growing. More than five million dwellings were created between 1986 and 2012. 57% of these have been for private rent.
The Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association has noted that individual landlords have invested a net of some £50 billion a year in homes to rent.
And figures in the English Housing Survey show that a higher proportion of private sector tenants are satisfied with their properties compared to those in the social sector.
Of course, this does not mean that the sector is perfect, far from it. That is why the proposals set out in the RLA’s manifesto offer pragmatic and achievable solutions that will help our sector grow, provide the safety and security in tenure that landlords and tenants both yearn for and crucially enable councils to properly enforce the wide range of powers they already have.