The three constants in life: death, taxes and change
By Amos Kimani – Policy and Public Affairs Executive
Having joined the National Landlords Association (NLA) a month before the Christmas break, I’m excited to share experience of the organisation’s work. Much like recent legislation, this blog has had been through various amendments prior to gaining its royal ascent.
Prior to joining, I was attuned to the fact that landlords were in fact running businesses but that was the full extent of my insight into their realities. It would be fair to say that I was a novice on the plight of being a landlord, given the rhetoric surrounding them in the media and political debate.
One of my first major engagements was a regional visit to a Universal Credit (UC) trailblazer site in Canterbury. This opportunity gave me a first-hand experience of the NLA’s approach in highlighting landlords’ concerns with the UC rollout and its impact on tenants. This visit was crucial in emphasising the intertwined nature of the relationship between a landlord and tenant. After all, whatever the view of landlords is on UC, it’s here to stay, and our objective is to ensure that government policy did not negatively impact landlord interests. However, in this instance our interest also required us to consider the impact on the tenant because of the way the system had been designed. In a lot of ways, the experience was clear example of the challenges of influencing policy.
Politics vs policy:
The soon to be Tenant Fees Act 2019 and the now Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2019, presented my next learning curve on the minefield of legislation that is meant to govern the private rented sector. Much to our dismay, the government went against our advice – as well as the wider industry – regarding the security deposit cap. Given that no new evidence had been provided since they had expressed agreement with our view, one can only speculate that the politics of a certain withdrawal agreement vote may have been influential.
On the other hand, the success of the Fitness for Human Habitation Act embodied one of our key tenets which states, ‘regulation should set boundaries and expectations, but not impose unreasonable burden’. Its passage into law with our support highlighted our position that enforcement must be effective to remove criminal landlords. Unfortunately, it remains the case that landlords' reputations are tarnished by the acts of a minority of operators with unscrupulous practices.
As far as housing legislation was concerned, I concluded that the political interests of politicians are a double-edged sword because they have the unpredictability of either hurting or advancing landlord interests, but their interests will always take precedent. If you factor in the high churn of personnel for the role of Minister of State for Housing – with eight housing ministers in eight years – it would be fair to say that change is our only constant. Therefore, it is imperative that we guard against any political interests that are motivated by short term gains with respect to policy formulation by the Government.
Landlord and tenant relationship:
Lastly, the final learning point of my time at the NLA so far has been the importance of landlords and tenants understanding their rights and responsibilities. I found it surprising that the expectation of a landlord maintaining their repair obligations and a tenant paying their rent, was not as universal as I had expected.
My realisation about the lack of compliance did help me rationalise why there was a constant push to introduce regulations. However, I was also able to empathise with the frustrations of law-abiding landlords who would be disproportionately affected by indiscriminate regulatory changes.
Meeting landlords at local meetings, training courses and forums also proved to be an effective myth-busting exercise as well as professionally informative. I was encouraged by their engagement in seeking to be effective housing providers – in contrast to the rhetoric levelled against landlords that would have you believe that they are a menace to society. The stark reality is that the private tenure offers the most viable solution to the house shortage in this country – currently ranking as the second largest tenure in England, and providing homes to 4.5 million households*.
It would be fair to say that I have had a steep learning curve to date. However, the experience has been refreshingly contradictory to the preconceptions that I may have had regarding the sector.
*English Private Landlord Survey 2018
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