Chris Town: Our housing manifesto for change in the rental sector

The future of social housing should be an election issue, argues Chris Town.
The future of social housing should be an election issue, argues Chris Town.
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OVER a quarter of households across Yorkshire are expected to be in the private rented sector by 2025.

The forthcoming General Election needs to be one that offers tenants and good landlords practical proposals to provide security for both and ensure the market works for all. The Residential Landlords Association’s manifesto for provides solutions to tackle these issues.

The biggest issue that needs to be dealt with is supply. In certain areas a lack of rented housing is driving up prices and restricting choices. As more people come to rely on the private rented sector because it provides them with the flexibility to meet their needs, they are unable to afford a deposit to buy, or are unable to access social housing.

The demographic of tenants is changing – with many more being families. They rightly need appropriate security to protect their family life, which means longer tenancies. Underpinning all this, as ever, there needs to be an assurance of decent standards and driving out the criminal landlords who give the sector a bad name.

To boost supply we need the next Government to recognise that the majority of homes to rent are provided by individuals and small companies. They need to be supported to develop new homes. While large investors should be encouraged, this should not be at the expense of smaller landlords.

A new mass programme should be established to identify and free up small plots of unused public sector land which individual landlords would, given the right environment, be more than happy to develop on. Such land is too small for corporate investors and will often become untidy and a magnet for anti-social behaviour.

We need also pro-growth taxation scrapping, or at least only applying to new borrowing, the recent changes to mortgage interest relief and ending the extra stamp duty levy on additional properties where a landlord invests in property adding to the supply of housing, whether new build or through bringing empty homes back into use.

It is good news that private sector tenants are now, on average, living in their properties for over four years, but two things need to happen to encourage more landlords to offer longer tenancies.

One is to put pressure on mortgage lenders not to restrict tenancy lengths, as so many do. The other is our more radical proposal to establish a new specialist housing court to deliver quick and cost effective justice to help landlords and tenants to enforce their rights. It currently takes an average of 43 weeks for a landlord to repossess a property where a tenant is not paying their rent or committing anti-social behaviour. This can act as a major deterrent to being locked into a longer tenancy for some landlords.

Equally, many tenants find the court system overly complex and expensive when they wish to force a landlord to carry out repairs and are left seeking support from over-stretched local authorities.

To help rented housing be more affordable we would like to see help for tenants with the biggest upfront cost, which is their 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 on the most limited means, the RLA would also like to see more help.

A good start would be to scrap the unnecessary one week delay that those claiming Universal Credit must wait before they can apply for it. This, and the seven weeks that some have to wait before they first get paid, can lead to rent arrears building up which is not good for either the tenant or the landlord and undermines the relationship between them.

For landlords too, the system is not working. There is no mechanism in place to ensure that landlords receive the money they are owed when tenants claiming Universal Credit accrue rent arrears and then walk away from a property.

We are also calling 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.

All of these issues make it more difficult for those receiving benefits to find the accommodation they want as the system is stacked against tenants receiving benefits and landlords who want to rent to them.

Yorkshire has a housing crisis and this set of policies will go at least some way to ensure that the majority of good landlords can play their part in seeking to tackle it.

Chris Town is vice chairman of the Residential Landlords Association. He is also a landlord renting property out in Yorkshire.