With more than an estimated 700,000 empty properties in England, and the issue recently in the news following the annual National Empty Homes Week, RLA chairman Alan Ward answers those critics that imply landlords are the cause of the problem…
The idea that the national housing crisis is being exacerbated by landlords leaving properties empty is clearly nonsense.
With an estimated 700,000 empty homes in England – 270,000 of which have been empty for over six months – and demand for new housing increasing all the time, some accusing fingers have been pointed towards the private rented sector with the claim that landlords are deliberately leaving properties empty rather than renting them out.
However, research by the RLA has shown that the claim evidently has no basis of truth.
The Association recently undertook a survey of its members, and almost 62 per cent stated that less than 10 per cent of their portfolios had been empty for longer than one month at any one time.
With portfolios of varying sizes respondents provided multiple choice answers when asked why some of their properties had been empty longer than a month; but, by some distance, the two main reasons given were:
- Renovation work had been undertaken before re-letting the property (53 per cent); and,
- The property was being advertised for let (41 per cent).
In terms of negative reasons why some properties were empty for longer than one month, just six per cent stated that they couldn’t afford to maintain a particular property and let it out to a satisfactory standard, whilst four per cent stated that they were going through the legal process of taking back possession of a property following its vacation by tenants prior to the end of the tenancy agreement. Eight per cent stated they were in the process of selling the property.
However, it is clear from the RLA’s research that where private rented property is empty in the main it is being regenerated and made available for occupancy.
I relayed these findings to the former housing minister, Mark Prisk, when I met him earlier this year to discuss issues affecting the private rented sector. And it was an argument I recently reiterated on BBC Radio Sussex.
It is unfair to point the finger at landlords. Quite simply landlords are not in business to leave properties empty – they invest in real estate to generate rent and yields.
It is not in the interest for any landlord to keep their properties empty – for each day a property is empty it is costing them in lost rent, council tax payments, utility charges, and in many cases, mortgage and loan repayments.
Properties are empty for many reasons including planning delays, probate and business disputes, sentimental family reasons, and lethargy or indifference on the part of the owner – none of which have any relevance to the actions of landlords in the private rented sector.
One significant reason for properties remaining empty is that of ‘landbanking’, whereby property owners deliberately keep their properties empty, primarily in the hope that property prices will increase. Research by Empty Homes has cast light on the problem of landbanking, identifying over 20,500 empty properties that were landbanked in 2012 for the following reasons:
- 10,187 homes had been made illegal to live in by local authorities. These included homes acquired for demolition and future development through compulsory purchase orders and those subject to closing orders;
- 9,444 homes had been repossessed by mortgage lenders but had not been sold or let; and,
- 887 homes were reserved for the clergy but remained unoccupied.
Despite, evidence to the contrary, some local authorities have taken a draconian view to the perception of empty homes in the private rented sector, with many local authorities abandoning council tax discounts for empty properties, and some imposing a 150 per cent monthly council tax charge on empty properties. This obviously penalises proactive landlords who need void periods between tenancies to undertake maintenance work on their properties.
It is more peculiar when you consider that during 2011/12 landlords helped bring over 19,000 empty homes back into use in England. During the same period, an RLA survey showed that 82 per cent of landlords would be interested in purchasing publicly-owned property if the Government launched an initiative to sell off publicly-owned empty properties.
It seems that landlords are being unfairly targeted for a problem that is simply not of their making. From all the feedback that the RLA receives from its membership and the wider private rented sector community it is clear that a process of investment and regeneration in the housing sector is being driven by landlords. With over 1.6 million more properties in the private rented sector today than in 1999, and 84 per cent of tenants satisfied with their homes, it is clearly a myth that landlords are deliberately sitting on empty properties hoping for a big payday in the future when they can sell at a worthwhile profit. The few that choose to sit empty properties and rely on unreliable house price trends, instead of catering for immediate demand and its subsequent yields, are simply in the wrong profession.
Alan Ward is the chairman of the Residential Landlords’ Association and a landlord in Manchester.