Politicians misguided with attacks on landlords - David Alexander

David Alexander argues that the situation is almost the opposite of what some politicians try to make out. Picture: Laurence Winram
David Alexander argues that the situation is almost the opposite of what some politicians try to make out. Picture: Laurence Winram
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Last week’s column focused on the Labour party’s decision to take a step backwards on an earlier suggestion that all private tenants should be given the “right to buy” their homes at a price set by a government quango.

Instead the “right” will be limited to those whose landlords have two or more properties – as if this so-called concession was of any real value, which of course it is not.

But I have no doubt the motivation that fed the policy suggestion in the first place still persists – i.e. that landlords are, with a few noble exceptions, a dodgy lot who are forever out to take advantage of their “hard-working” tenants.

I was encouraged, therefore, to see a recent survey whose results have produced a sensible balance. In it, the National Landlords Association found that Brexit, climate change and the environment, and education headed the issues for the UK’s private tenants as they prepare to cast their vote in next month’s general election. Housing (which presumably includes tenancy issues) was ranked fourth, followed by immigration, the NHS, police and crime, tax, transport and the welfare system.

When asked how confident they felt about their current landlord or managing agent’s professionalism, nearly a quarter of tenants answered “very confident”, with 69 per cent marking them seven or above, on a scale of one to ten. More than 80 per cent of tenants said they had a positive view of their current landlord with 68 per cent having never “never had cause to complain”.

The NLA sees a connection between these responses and the fact that landlords have resisted the temptation to raise rents over the past year: nearly three-quarters of tenants reported that their rents had “stayed the same” while some even revealed that their rent had actually fallen over the past 12 months.

Richard Lambert, chief executive of the NLA, opines that the survey results reveal that “the majority of tenants are perfectly happy with their rental property and perfectly happy with their landlord".

Cynics

Now, I can almost hear the cynics among you mumbling, “well, he would say that, wouldn’t he”? And, yes, the NLA does not reveal how big a sample of its 41,000 members took part in the survey. So the actual statistics might be treated with some caution. Nevertheless, the results pretty much bear out the everyday working experience of property management professionals.

On the whole, landlords and tenants DO have a fairly good relationship and disputes between them make up a very small percentage in relation to the number of properties let. Indeed landlords will go out of their way to keep a good tenant in situ – why should they not because if for no other reason it makes good business sense?

The astute landlord will look at the bigger picture rather than just how much monthly rental a property can produce. For example, one of the most sought-after tenants is the professional person with a secure, well-paid job who lives in the property on their own for four or five nights a week and returns to family at weekends.

This provides rental security, internal wear and tear is kept to a minimum and there is – generally – no disturbance to neighbours. To retain this type of tenant, landlords will be prepared to keep any rental increases to a minimum or perhaps even zero – which is why I do not doubt the veracity of the NLA’s claim about static or even falling rents.

Yes, there are exploitative landlords out there, however any reputable managing agent will soon give such a person short shrift. This clearly means that a proportion of tenant complaints are genuine. Nevertheless some tenants do make complaints for what are frankly “nit-picking” reasons.

True, there is no doubt room for improvement in landlord-tenant relationships but I tend to agree with the basic tenor of the NLA survey that the situation is almost the opposite of what some vote-hungry politicians try to make out.

- David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander