What is the role of a private landlord in the UK? The answer seems obvious – to provide accommodation for the growing numbers who either cannot afford to buy their own property or do not want home ownership, whether permanently or at a particular time in their lives. Rosalind Renshaw investigates…
Landlords do have legal responsibilities, uppermost of which is the duty to provide safe accommodation. There is also a raft of legislation requiring compliance, such as the obligation for annual gas safety checks and protection of tenants’ deposits, and not to contravene discrimination laws.
Most landlords abide by the law. However, there is an element (commonly called ‘rogue’ although ‘criminal’ is a better word), who break the law, no doubt encouraged by the fact that so few are prosecuted. ‘Beds in sheds’ landlords are some of the very worst examples, exploiting tenants who are usually immigrants and ripping them off while they live in overcrowded, insanitary and unsafe conditions.
The Immigration Bill, which will make landlords legally responsible for checking the migrant status of tenants and their right to be in the UK, is intended to tackle exactly such abuse. But the RLA has expressed concerns: the Association does not believe it is the role of landlords to do the job of the Border Agency. We also point that ‘beds in sheds’ landlords are carrying out illegal activities and there is no reason why there should not be many more prosecutions.
The RLA is now concerned by a new proposal, this time from the Institute for Public Policy Research, calling for local councils to oversee and limit the number of private tenancies in their areas. This proposal is again in connection with immigration, specifically to do with migrants coming to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania. It must be stressed that as from January 1, they now have the freedom to do so and would ‘pass’ vetting checks put in place by the Immigration Bill.
The IPPR’s report says they will add pressure on the ‘lower end’ of the private rented sector and notes: “The Government has taken action to ensure that migrants cannot access social housing, but has done little to ensure that the private rented sector can withstand additional pressure.”
The report also notes that three-quarters of migrants who have been in the UK for less than five years live in the private rented sector. It goes on to say that migrant tenants offer landlords certain advantages – for example, a willingness to tolerate low standards of accommodation and overcrowding.
Urgent action is needed, says the report, to ensure that “local areas have the powers and resources to manage new demand”. The IPPR argues that councils should be given powers to “control the numbers of short-term private rented lets available in their areas”, and “to ensure that health and safety regulations are enforced”.
But what would regulating local private rental markets achieve, when the issue is likely to be one of greater demand from people with a perfect right to be here? It seems to us that the proposal entirely misses the point.
It would overload already stretched councils and have to be paid for somehow – no doubt, like other licensing schemes, by those landlords who operate legally, openly and decently. It would also result in more ‘beds in sheds’-type landlords operating below the radar – renting without tenancy agreements, and leaving more tenants exploited and unprotected.
Councils have wide powers to uphold standards of health and safety in housing, to protect tenants and to prosecute criminal landlords. More schemes are not needed. Local authorities must be encouraged to use the powers they already have.
Rosalind Renshaw is editor of Residential Property Investor, the RLA’s very own magazine. For more information visit www.residentialpropertyinvestor.co.uk.