With The Spice Girls about to embark on a nostalgia-fest tour round the country, there’ll no doubt be plenty of people telling us what we want, what we really, really want over the course of the next few months. No change there you might say. Indeed, it might often seem that everyday there are plenty of people, organisations, regulators, you name it, all intent on carefully explaining to us what we want.
There’s certainly a lot of presumption around. Listen to any politician and you’re likely to hear the phrase, “The British people are telling us…”, which is beyond infuriating. If anyone has any thoughts that the British people can be lumped into one homogenous grouping at the moment, let alone that they’re speaking with one voice, then I would suggest they seek medical help.
The same is true of course in our own sector, particularly when it comes to the private rental sector and, specifically, what tenants want. For most of the past few years, the wants or thoughts of landlords appear to have been disregarded – and I understand that this plays well to certain voter demographics but a joined-up policy around the PRS does really require some consideration of both sides in this.
I’m not suggesting that rogue landlords with terrible properties should somehow be protected but, given the amount of housing that the PRS provides, you really need a system that works for both. Take, for instance, the recent decision to ban ‘no fault’ evictions – already the government has been accused of introducing a policy that will do more harm than good.
Even before this announcement, landlords had no rights to simply go into a property and turf out a tenant anyway, so what does this actually achieve? As some have pointed out, what it probably means is that those landlords who only want to let out a property for a fixed term are not going to be able to do so, because under the new rules the tenant will always have the right to extend their tenancy agreement. Thus, a number of landlords in such situations simply won’t be able to put their property on the market.
The whole notion of what tenancies are suitable is different in each landlord/tenant arrangement/agreement, but there also seems to be a myth than landlords are somehow against longer-term tenancies. That’s not the case at all, and our recent research into this, revealed that the average maximum tenancy most landlords would like to offer is 2.3 years – a long way away from the six-month ASTLs that are most common.
Indeed, while it would suit landlords to offer a longer term, what they end up doing is either having to go for six months – 42% of the landlords we asked – or 12 months (46%). I’ve yet to meet a landlord who wouldn’t want to keep a quality tenant in situ for as long as possible, given that it means they get the rent, the property is looked after, and it avoids what can be costly void period. Longer tenancies suit landlords and to suggest otherwise is nonsense.
What we do have however is a situation now where landlords who do only want to commit to, say, a year-long fixed-term tenancy agreement are not going to be able to do that, because there’s no guarantees they’ll get that property back at the end of the period, if the tenant can naturally secure an extension. When the PRS is crying out for an increase in supply of higher-quality properties, this does seem like the government cutting off the landlord’s nose to spite their face again.
No one is suggesting that the government will somehow wake up one day and just ‘gets’ what landlords want, and I think most in the sector have come to the conclusion that what landlords do want is somewhat secondary to tenants. But, we can’t continue to hit one side of the market continually and expect them to like it, lump it and keep on doing their bit to solve the housing gap, because – as we’re all acutely aware – without private landlords the UK’s housing problem gets far worse rather.
The sooner we understand this, the better. The sooner we get what all housing stakeholders want and need, the better. And the sooner I get ‘Wannabe’ out of my head…well, you work it out.
Jeff Knight is director of marketing at Foundation Home Loans