In every society since the ancient concept of landlord and tenant evolved the relationship has been characterised by conflict. The ever accelerating reams of legislation have only served to extend the gulf in understanding. What is needed is a new arrangement, a new equilibrium. Recent research published by www.housingpartners.co.uk shows that only less than a third of social housing tenants feel that their landlord listened to their concerns. And only 22% believe that their landlord cared about them and their family.
Inevitably, the accumulating demand for housing is tipping the power scales in favour of the landlord. Simultaneously public pressure is growing for greater protection for tenants from exploitative landlords. The downside is that over regulating the housing sector will deter landlords from participating in social housing. In today’s market the reality is the overwhelming majority of landlords will have a choice of tenants. Fewer and fewer landlords are willing to accept housing benefit tenants perhaps half as much as two years ago. Research conducted by Heriot-Watt University on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation predicts that rents will rise by 90% by 2040. Twice as fast as incomes.
The Thatcher government significantly extended home ownership through ‘right to buy’. Concomitantly, the consequently depleted UK social housing stock though was never replenished by a new wave of community housing. The best way to protect tenants is to promote more ethical landlords and more constructive landlord practices. I therefore propose a new five point Constructive Landlord Charter;
- The HOUSING BENEFIT SYSTEM MUST INCENTIVISE LANDLORDS to give tenants greater security of tenure. So that there should be increases in housing benefit when tenants stay in properties for longer than two years. Too often over assertive landlords evict tenants on a yearly or even a six monthly basis. These landlords cause constant stop start housing benefit claims. The cost administrative process therewith of these new claims is incurred by the taxpayer.
- Provide COUNCIL TAX DISCOUNTS FOR TENANTS WHO REMAIN IN A PROPERTY MORE THAN 36 MONTHS. The current national average is 18 months. Longer tenancies mean stronger more stable communities. Moreover, the longer the duration of a tenancy relationship, the greater the propensity for a harmonious arrangement to develop.
- LANDLORDS AND THEIR AGENTS SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO CHARGE TENANTS ADMIN FEES. Homelessness is caused by the fact that renting is both financially and practically inaccessible to some of the most vulnerable people in our society. A tenant is expected to have character and financial references. Plus a deposit, advanced rent and admin fees to pay for the compilation of paperwork, inventory and so on. Landlords should not be allowed to take advantage of cash strapped tenants just because they are desperate to move into a property.
- TENANTS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO END TENANCY WITH ONLY MONTH NOTICE. Currently tenants can only give a two month notice at the earliest on the fourth month of a standard assured shorthold tenancy agreement. In this way somebody intending to rent is penalised by the fact that they need to have sufficient financial security to pay several months rent, council tax and utilities. If they end the tenancy early, under present arrangements they will most likely lose their deposit. Furthermore, tenants should not be contractually tied to a property whereby a landlord persistently refuses to carry out essential repairs.
- LANDLORDS SHOULD BE REWARDED FOR RENTING TO HOMELESS PERSONS. Firstly, they should automatically receive housing benefit directly and in advance rather than in arrears as is customary. Secondly, properties which are let to registered homeless persons should be subject to special utility and council tax reductions.The homeless should be their very first priority and we must do everything in our power to bring them back into the housing market.
The single biggest reason landlords are reluctant to let properties to housing benefit recipients is the fact that the last Labour government transferred payments to tenants. Unfortunately, the folklore has developed that tenants will take the housing benefit but not pay the rent. If housing benefit is paid to the tenant to support their rental commitments then I can see no rational reason why those payments should not be made, exceptional circumstances excepted, directly to landlords.
Housing is the golden thread which runs through all government policy. Housing expenditure accounts for the biggest part of our personal and family expenditure for most of us. Both home owners and tenants aspire for better value for money. 2015 presents us with new challenges, but also with new opportunities to establish a new era for landlord and tenant relations, a new partnership based on building a fairer more just society.