Landlords: pawns in a political game?

Housing has always been a political issue, but as the levels of home ownership fall and concerns rise about Generation Rent, it’s become even more of a hot potato. Last week, on top of everything else that we’re facing, MPs called for the abolition of Section 21 evictions. The debate raised fair points but was vocal on the rights of tenants. Grahame Morris, MP for the Easington constituency, stated that there was a ‘one-sided power imbalance’ and further, that tenants’ rights were largely unenforceable. Another MP went on to say that Section 21 evictions created “a culture of uncertainty where tenants are afraid to exercise their rights.”

There is no doubt that the Section 21 no-fault principle has been abused by a minority of landlords, but its existence gives the majority the reassurance that their property remains something they can control. And if that degree of control was removed, who would choose to be a landlord? That very point was raised by Alex Chalk MP who expressed concerns that reforms shouldn’t be implemented at the cost of restricting housing supply.

We could argue long and hard about whether Section 21 is fair, but I think we would be avoiding the real debate – which must be, surely, about the role of the private rental sector in the UK and whether a government, of any party, would recognise and respect its contribution.

Home ownership was for decades the desirable state for many, supported and encouraged by successive generations of politicians, but house prices have risen too far and too fast for many. And yes, I know that private landlords have contributed to the rises, but so have schemes like the help-to-buy programme. Private landlords are frequently castigated and criticised by our politicians, but we’re now a necessity, and I believe we should be allowed to help shape the future of this country’s housing. We are, after all, supplying an increasing proportion of it.

I’m not saying that landlords should have all the power. Only cowboys want a return to the dark ages of squalor and like-it-or-lump-it deals. What I am saying is that politicians should take our concerns seriously and make use of the extensive knowledge we have about tenants, their needs and their aspirations.

Every private landlord has something of the entrepreneur in their character. We have, I’m certain of it, enough creativity, desire and drive to work with our politicians to ensure tenants enjoy high-quality housing, tenancy durations that suit their needs and affordable rents, but we must be taken seriously. We need strategic planning, not brief windows of consultation on major issues. And when the adversarial nature of British politics kicks in, we don’t need kicking from both sides.

Yes, housing is in a mess. That’s because we’re still in a period of transition from the old property ladder model to a model where renting is a respected long-term choice. It’s not because of Section 21. Calls to abolish no-fault evictions are yet more evidence of the knee-jerk tactics which don’t solve problems. They might make politicians believe they’ve achieved something, but all that’s happened is the problem now sits on someone else’s shoulders.

I’m Sim Sekhon and I’m proud to be a landlord. I believe it’s time we stopped being pawns in political games. I believe we’ve got a more important role to play – shaping a private rental sector that works for all its stakeholders.