One of the biggest fallacies around the private residential rented sector is that landlords and agents are “in cahoots” with one another – usually to the detriment of tenants.
Admittedly, in that unregulated market operating “under the radar”, this might have more than a ring of truth but it does not apply to conventional agents with an upfront presence. Let me emphasise that any type of co-operation with a bad landlord is morally wrong and should that not be enough, is 100 per cent bad for business. While conventional agencies – ourselves included – do, from time to time, get taken in by a plausible landlord who then turns out not to be as he seemed, once his faults become clear he is, if you’ll forgive the pun, quickly shown the door.
This is why, probably like millions of other television viewers, I was delighted to learn that landlord Fergus Wilson had decided to retire after an episode of Panorama broadcast last month. It exposed his less-than-friendly attitude towards the tenants currently living in the 300 rental properties across Kent in south-east England, that he his wife, Judith, own. However, both are unlikely to struggle in retirement as their empire is said to have made them multi-millionaires.
Wilson’s attitude to property-management was this: “Basically, we have got two types of tenants – those who agree with me and ex-tenants.” This statement more or less summed up his approach and various actions, including evictions. At present most leases in England and Wales are for six or 12 months, after which a landlord – should he so wish – is free to evict even if the tenant has respected the property and paid rent timeously.
This stance will be greatly curtailed when the Tenants Fees Bill, passed by Westminster, is enforced from June this year but further action needs to be taken and there is a way forward as exemplified by existing changes to the law in Scotland.
Regulations similar to those in the Westminster Bill have been in place in Scotland since 2012; the no-fault grounds for eviction notices no longer apply north of the Border; and the Scottish Government recently introduced much greater security of tenure for tenants. In many ways, Scotland has led the way in improving the rights of tenants and changing the relationship between landlord and tenant.
When similar regulations were introduced in Scotland, many landlords and agents feared they were just too “occupier-friendly” and would especially be exploited by rogue tenants, with some even claiming the result would be a mass withdrawal of landlords. Yet the sector has not collapsed – the best in the market adapt.
One of the focuses of the Panorama documentary was the issuing of no-fault grounds for eviction notices. When this was introduced in Scotland and greatly increased security of tenure, there was an understandable fear that landlords and agents might lose control. In fact, the regime has given agents, landlords and tenants an opportunity to develop a relationship built on trust, on fairness, and on developing a long-term relationship to their mutual benefit.
These changes must be viewed as positive in a market that was using legislation based on a model of renting going back to 1988.
We now have a sector that is the second-largest in the overall housing market with more than four million tenants. The future is in building on these legislative and regulatory changes to create a system that continues to benefit all parties and to create an environment where responsible tenants feel secure in their homes, are able to communicate any issues that arise, and have most difficulties resolved easily and amicably.
Landlords, meanwhile, can be assured that they are providing quality homes for individuals over long periods who are happy, secure and safe in the knowledge that the interests of all participants in the private rented sector are benefiting from the relationship.
David Alexander is MD of DJ Alexander