Sim Sekhon: Don’t ignore the older tenant

We know that the proportion of people who are renting their homes is on the rise. We also know that the population is ageing. Now figures are showing that there’s rapid growth in the numbers of those aged 55 and over who are renting. This age group now accounts for around 15% of the market, up from around 11% in 2012.

I’m not a big fan of generalisations, but let’s make one in this case. Older people tend to be more settled. Unlike the younger generations, they are far less likely to be relocating for work or study or wanting to move to find extra space for a growing family. And this stability can be a real benefit for landlords, because there’s no need to keep finding new tenants, risking void periods and potential gaps in your income.

Even so, some landlords are avoiding taking on older tenants. It may be that their properties are unsuitable, or that the landlord prefers the flexibility of shorter tenancies and higher turnovers. But we’re hearing of more and more cases where older tenants are turned away because they are perceived as a financial risk or because the landlord fears he may end up paying for extensive modifications.

Of course, landlords should always be at liberty to choose their own tenants, but with a population of renters who are ageing, the ability to pick and choose your tenants on the grounds of youth and earnings capacity is declining. The market will have to shift to accommodate the needs of older tenants and those landlords who choose to specialise in renting to an older demographic may find themselves with a successful niche in an otherwise busy market.

With sincere apologies – I know everyone is an individual – let’s imagine a generic older tenant and assume that they want a home for life. The property needs to be suitable. Things like having bedrooms and bathrooms on the same floor are important considerations. Staircases should be wide enough to accommodate a stairlift. A separate room for a carer or relative to stop over will be an advantage. Outside spaces need to be easily manageable. The neighbourhood needs to be friendly with good transport links, local amenities and a sense of community.

And if you can ensure all these things are in place – or could be put in place – then why not consider a tenant who is highly likely to treat their home – your property – with respect for many years to come. If there’s a guaranteed pension, there’s no worry about periods of unemployment. And if, in time, their healthcare needs become onerous, you wouldn’t be expected to make substantial modifications to your property – although modest changes, such as installing a temporary wheelchair ramp or stairlift, could ensure you retain a great tenant who’s never late with the rent.

I know this isn’t for everyone, and I’m fully aware that many older renters have restricted incomes and complex social needs. But just as when you are choosing to rent to students or to operate HMOs you are fitting your product – your property – to the market’s needs. You are finding where the demand is and tailoring what you offer to suit. And this is an area where demand is on the rise.

Currently, this country has restricted levels of social housing provision and high levels of demand. Increasingly that demand comes from older tenants rejected by the private sector. The private landlord with a positive attitude to older tenants, who is prepared to research, adapt, take a long-term view and offer long-term tenancies has an opportunity to help alleviate the situation. That private landlord will also be building a strong business for themselves.