Communities and Local Government CommitteeFurther written evidence submitted by Sue Thompson

I would make the following observations, as a private landlady of 30 years.

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) is a vital component of the housing market.

The modern landlord has still not been able to shake off the image and reputation of Rackman and other rogue landlords due to bad media publicity. The only stories are bad stories of bad landlords. It is so one sided. On one occasion when I had to evict a tenant for drug dealing from the property after several warnings, the newspaper headline was “Poor tenant is evicted”. The tenants had actually burnt into the carpet “Drugs Sold Here”.

The majority of landlords are extremely conscientious and have the welfare of their tenants at heart.

The government has tried to address the problem of “rogue” landlords through legislation which has only impacted on “good” landlords whilst the “rogues” remain under the radar. The prime example of this is Selective Licensing (SL). I have personally been involved in SL both as a property owner and as a member of implementation committees and scrutiny committees. All three local authorities (LAs) I have been involved with have deliberately targeted the good landlords first, maintaining that it “was difficult to locate or find out the owners of certain properties”. I was not amazed to find that the local authority personnel on SL committees had not heard of the land registry. Since the need to have Government approval (despite it being a rubber stamp exercise) was abandoned, standards for implementing SL have dropped. No business plan is made, no starting data, no objectives etc etc have all been overlooked.

I honestly believe that LAs have viewed SL as a money earner. “Let the landlords pay us for the jobs which we should have been doing in the first place”. The legislation was already there, the staff were already employed. One LA claimed a high degree of success from SL but also have to admit that this is because the professionals like the police, social workers, anti social behaviour teams etc. are now working on the ground instead of behind their desks all the time.

I have no experience of HMO or Additional Licensing but can only conclude that it must be a similar scenario as SL. If the government go ahead with further impositions on the private landlord it will deter further investment in the industry. You certainly will never be able to attract pension funds or corporate investors.

The points which you have asked us to consider with regard to property standards, I can only say that landlords are being required to provide more and more—in the North East where I live and operate there is a surplus of housing and we are therefore chasing the good tenants. All of my properties (and I have 100—I still have my first tenant from 1983 and over 60% of my tenants have been with me between five and 10 years) have double glazing and central heating. Most kitchens are replaced every five years or on change of tenant. I remember talking to a landlord from Doncaster several years ago and he told me that tenants no longer wanted terrace housing, even benefit tenants were insisting on Whimpey semi detached. Yes it is a competitive market, which is all to the good—it pushes standards higher. I think you will find that poor properties are occupied by “ poor” tenants. By this I mean tenants who do not care about the property and leave untold amounts of damage. These tenants are then black listed by good landlords with good properties. The bottom line is that the legislation is there for any tenant to complain to their LA if their landlord is not doing his duty with repairs and maintenance.

With regard to rent control this completely goes against the grain of a free market society. Most areas have a wide range of rental properties and people need to “shop” for what they can afford. So for working people there should be no interference with rents from the government. The fact that Housing Benefit (HB) was based on local rents but the government have now capped the Local Housing Allowance, means that more or less it has introduced rent control by the back door. I am in favour of the LHA being capped and I do have 75% of my tenants on benefit—it is not fair that a benefit tenant should be entitled to a property which a working person could not afford.

It would be seriously difficult for any control over Tenancy Agreements. I personally do Assured Tenancies not Assured Shorthold. This is because I do not have any mortgages. I do not see that lenders would continue to do buy to let mortgages without the safety net of a Section 21. I do feel that perhaps the Fixed Period should not be shorter than one year. The landlord can always use Ground 8 for mandatory possession if rent arrears accrue.

Allowing LAs to place their homeless people in the PRS and discharge their statutory duty is two edged. Many LAs will see this as a dumping ground for unsavory tenants. As landlords we are often criticized for housing anti social tenants and yet the LAs want us to house these people because they do not want them. It is a catch 22 situation. The social landlords are better equipped to house and monitor these people than the private landlord and should therefore be placed with the social landlord. We now have the situation where the private landlord has become the social provider and the Social Landlords are taking all the working people. Promises of monitoring these tenants in the private sector, I personally have found, unfulfilled. I even had the scenario of taking two youths from social services who failed to tell me of their drug dealing history.

The bottom line is that I do not believe that we need any further legislation for landlords. I am obviously biased. LAs have run forums where they say only Accredited Landlords can benefit from this that and the other, and we will not invite unaccredited landlords to our meetings—well these are the very people, the unaccredited landlords, who need to be invited to the meeting or benefit from whatever. The LA already has the good landlords on board—it is the “rogues” or uninformed landlords who need the education.

It is also very easy to target landlords and blame us for all the housing ills when very often it is the tenants themselves who cause many problems. Even under The Housing Act when it introduced SL it was on the basis of controlling anti social behaviour. Well it is not the landlord shouting and screaming and playing music all night, or having 30 visitors each night, it is the tenant.

I feel that there is a lot more that local authorities could do to deal with “rogue” landlords and even anti social tenants. They have the powers but appear not to use them unless they impose some sort of licensing scheme. The general public are not asked to pay (other than through taxation) for the help of the police, social services or the council, and yet legislation has been introduced which blatantly is asking for one sector of society to pay for these services.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013