Sim Sekhon asks: Where’s the long-term strategy?

Studying the major parties’ manifestos ahead of the election could cause landlords a considerable amount of stress. The Conservatives renew their opposition to the no-fault eviction and declare a drive to promote home-ownership. The Labour meanwhile champions the idea of annual property inspections and £100,000 fines for landlords who commit a single offence.

We all know that there’s a huge amount of difference between a manifesto promise and what eventually ends up on the statute book. But there is precious little in either the Tory or Labour proposals to gladden the heart of the decent landlord. Can you comprehend another industry which contributes so much to the country’s revenues, getting the same battering as the PRS? I can’t.

I know that this country has a massive housing shortage, but private landlords are not the cause of that. The issues are long term. There’s a trend towards smaller household sizes and an increasing population. There are land-use issues and all the complications of planning and a market economy. These are the big issues – fundamental issues – that go far beyond the party politics and current arguments about lifetime deposits and dispute resolution. And it’s the big issues that the politicians should be thinking of, rather than this constant mud-slinging and knee-jerk changes.

Should the buy-to-let landlord whose only realistic option for a secure pension is investing in property be vilified? Absolutely not. Should the property business which provides high-quality housing be tarred and condemned because there are some unscrupulous operators in the market? Of course not. And yet we see more and more rhetoric, regulations and proposed legislation – the majority of which doesn’t do anything at all to rein in the activities of the rogue landlord, but simply penalises the suppliers of housing.

Landlords are a political football because housing is highly emotive. Tenants’ issues make good headlines and political capital, but much of the criticism is unfair. There is, undoubtedly, a lot of resentment felt towards those who take a risk and invest their earnings in a rental property. That’s despite the reality of returns that are often modest. Landlords may even end up out of pocket, cheated and defrauded – but that doesn’t very often make the news. If instead of investing in property, the individual put their money into a business start-up, they would be applauded for their enterprise, but as a landlord, you’ll face a different reception.

Everything that’s being talked about in the run-up to the election,  whether it comes to pass or not, is in reaction to where we are perceived to be now – often by people with limited understanding. It’s not thinking about what is best for the country and what is possible and sustainable in the longer term. I believe it’s time for a grown-up debate. Let’s find out whether the very idea of a private rental sector is abhorrent to those in Westminster and if it is, let’s see what alternatives they can come up with that cope with this country’s changing demographics. If home-ownership is the only politically acceptable model, let’s start talking about how to make that happen when the issues of supply and demand continue to operate.