Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Graham Howell

Executive Summary

The private rental sector is already heavily regulated.

Tenants enjoy substantial protection under existing regulations and the law.

Most landlords comply with all regulations and the law.

“Rogue” landlords and Letting Agents will always exist.

Penalising good landlords to get at the “rogue” landlords will fail; good landlords will be forced out of the sector by over-regulation with the consequential impact on rental property availability whereas the “rogue” landlords will always find ways round the system.

Introduction

I am in full-time work and, in my spare time, have built up and manage a small rental portfolio of four flats and one house; these properties, and the rental income, are designed to provide an income in retirement for me and my family.

I have been a private landlord since 1996 and have built up my portfolio of properties since then. I work through Letting Agents and have seen the development of regulation since that time.

Observations on the Consultation

As a responsible landlord I am already subject to much regulation and legislation:

any deposit from tenants now goes into a recognised deposit scheme;

annual gas safety certificates are required;

fire protection locks and doors are required; and

tenants’ rights are strong on damage, deposit deductions and leaving the property (for non-payment of rent); arguably more favourable now to the tenant than the landlord.

Regulation and dealing with “rogue” landlords

My view is that a professional landlord renting to predominantly professional tenants is unlikely to be at fault-with properties at a high standard; these professional landlords are not the rogue landlords that cause suffering to some tenants. The rogue landlords will not comply with whatever legislation is brought in-preying as they do on the most vulnerable tenants. Bringing in stricter regulations will end up affecting the responsible landlords rather than the targets intended, as rogue landlords will continue to be “rogue”.

So if a register of landlords was introduced how could that ensure that all “rogue” landlords are on it? How could any system cope with those who choose to work outside it. For those tenants who have jobs and can move from property to property the pressure they exert to ensure good quality accommodation is immense. It is those who cannot choose, who find getting any accommodation difficult (whether that is financial, linguistic, poor credit rating or poor references) who will always be exposed to anyone who wants to operate as a “rogue”.

Levels of Rent

Levels of rent are dictated by the market. Over the last 16 years I have been through times when rents were high (as now) and times when rents were low. Fixing the levels of rent , or controlling them in some way, will have the effect of reducing rental properties available-I, for one, would not wish to be a landlord with all the regulations that apply to me and the obligations on me, if I knew that the rental I could charge was controlled in some way. I run a small business to make a pension income for myself-not to have that income artificially restricted.

Letting Agents

I have no issue here-Letting Agents should be regulated. I have never had an issue with fee levels. My suspicion is that, just as with “rogue” landlords, most Letting Agents are good reliable businesses. The “rogue” agents will always be on the edge of legality. Again I question whether too heavy regulation will end up punishing those who follow the law rather than those intended.

Length of Tenancies

The current short-hold tenancy seems to be to work well for both landlord and tenant. Tenants require the ability to move flexibly-and I have found that most of my tenants stay for one year to 18 months (my properties are in SW London which attracts a young transient population). I would not want to see any restriction on tenants’ ability to move. Equally I do not see the need to make it more difficult for landlords to end tenancies. A move back to “controlled” rents and greater security of tenure for tenants will drive good landlords away from the sector. It will become too burdensome for an insufficient return. Again “rogue” landlords operating on the outskirts of the system will continue-regardless of what the law or regulation may say. Intimidation and threats will still see tenants move out unwillingly.

Conclusion

My fear is that a desire to remove “rogue” landlords and Letting Agents from the system and give greater help to tenants by greater regulation will simply end up penalising the good landlords and forcing many to leave the rental sector-with a consequential impact on the availability of properties. The end result could be that in a shrinking rental sector the “rogue” landlords end up with more power than they have now.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013