by | Jan 10, 2021 | Safer Renting

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These are strange times indeed.

Despite being a housing enforcement type, specialising in the worst of the worst, bullies and thugs who specialise in violence, fraud, scams and a general flagrant disregard for Laws and tenant’a rights, I know that not all landlords and agents are like that.

Even I accept that Safer Renting ploughs a niche furrow among real scumbags rather than the standard landlord community.

At various points in my career I have been at pains to find middle ground between landlords and tenants.

Despite working in a generally confrontational kind of job I’m not by nature a combative sort of person, preferring to avoid conflict wherever I can and trying in all instances to see more sides of the story, than even just two. Nuance is where I usually and naturally sit as a human being.

This pandemic however has pushed me into an either/or position and I cant see any middle ground any more.

Covid has created an unforeseen crisis, where many tenants are losing income because of job loss or cuts in working hours, because the places they normally work have been closed down and because of the modern economic cancer known as “Zero hours contracts”

The upshot of this is that the vicissitudes of renter’s economic lives are meaning that they cant meet their rental obligations, placing tenants in rent debt and landlords often in mortgage debt.

The NRLA recently reporting that among their members 840,000 tenants are now in Covid related arrears. A huge social problem and bear in mind, only a relatively small proportion of landlords are members of the NRLA, so the figures polled by research among them will be a similarly small reflection of the true number.

On top of this, government are trying to stop swathes of people being evicted but without an overarching plan, for fear of upsetting the landlord, tinkering at the edges and making it more difficult procedurally to get possession without searching for a solution that might actually sit outside of government’s specific social policy.

As a result we have seen 4 stays on possession and eviction and weird changes to levels of rent arrears (9 months arrears but discounting arrears accruing since March but now back to 6 month?) which has done no more than piss off landlords and tenants and with no strategy underpinning these changes apart from to delay making a decision.

Govt have made it abundantly clear that they will not raise LHA levels to cover shortfalls, itself only part of the problem, whilst at the same time resisting the imposing of any form of rent control/capping that might put the brakes on.

So landlords are furious that that rent arrears are rising and tenants are similarly furious that no measures are being put in place to stop them sliding into massive debt.

All government are doing with their various stays and court closures, is kicking the can down the road without really addressing the problems, lest they introduce rent control and be accused of being Corbynist or allow landlords to evict, in consequence feeding a homelessness crisis.

So where does anyone stand on this?

Landlords are obviously to err on the side of protecting their investment, which is wrapped up in the British obsession with property rights, whilst tenants and their supporters/advocates will naturally pour their efforts into saving people’s homes.

Investment or homes? Where do you sit?

In normal times issues around social and economic inequality are mainly treated as business as usual by so much of the population but in times like these, such inequalities stand out like rat on a bread roll.

Rent Control:

I’m actually old enough to remember lettings pre-market rents and back in the day, landlords didn’t really factor rent into their budgeting. Tenants were more or less caretakers, while the property increased in price, which is where the real money was made.

Market rents, ushered in by the Housing Act 1988, made rental income part of the incentive and the beginning of austerity cuts around 10 years ago, along with a shortage of property, opened up the rental market, as an investment opportunity so lucrative that it also attracted the criminal element for the same reason..

If you are of the landlord’s perspective you will naturally fight tooth and nail against rent control as an infringement of your rights as investors but what is the point of pursuing tenants for rent arrears they cant afford because the rent levels don’t match post covid income problems?

Raising Local Housing Allowance.

Raising LHA levels is only relevant where the tenant is on LHA but staying with these people at the moment raises the philosophical question of why landlords, who by and large see themselves as investors, should be bailed out by public money, for running rents that their tenants cant afford?

Rent debt.

Landlords promote the argument that government should offer loans to tenants so they can meet their rent without eviction but this amounts to no more than another bail out for landlord’s charging rents that tenants cant afford. They don’t have to lower the rents because the tenants will take out loans.

If government were to be persuaded to set up a loan system for rents, why shouldn’t it be the case that those loans should be taken out by the landlords? It is after all their investment, their business and in decades to come, when all of this is the subject of documentaries on the History Channel, they will still own the properties.

In the alternative historical model, the landlords will still own the properties whilst the tenants are still paying off the debts. I have a moral problem with this.


So here we are. Where do you stand?

There is no middle ground I can see anymore. You either side with landlords to preserve their investment or you side with tenants to sustain their homes.

Bearing in mind that if tenants are evicted for rent arrears, most of them are going to become the legal responsibilities of the local authority homelessness units, where once again, the tax payer is going to be picking up the tab to bail the landlord out.

Enough companies are seeking the same thing at the moment and getting no quarter from any government. Why are landlords a special case?

Capping rents and increasing LHA?
This is all the middle ground left that I have as a possible solution and for me this is only a half hearted suggestion, its just my last ditch attempt at proposing a resolution to the problem. Public money covers some of the debt, landlord’s take the hit on the other half.

The pandemic has raised this battle between 2 sides. Things are desperate for both parties and in such situations there can be no fence sitting. Middle ground no longer exists.

Two years ago, if you had mentioned the subject of the abolition of s21, you would be roundly attacked online, called naïve and laughed off of various social media. Then suddenly it became a serious topic of discussion that is now an immanent change in the making.

We need to start raising the debate on rent arrears, not as an adolescent attack on landlords so much as an urgent political necessity. something that is essential for the future of renters, rising personal debt and homelessness.

Rent control measures need to be part of the serious discussion.

 by Ben Reeve Lewis

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About Cambridge House Safer Renting

The Cambridge House Safer Renting team present the ‘go-to’ blog on the world of the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

We monitor the world of rogue landlord and agent activity, publicise developments, circulate innovative ideas, keep readers abreast of changes in laws and regulations, raising awareness of criminal trends and scams, celebrate successful actions and interview people working in the field, connecting up anyone involved, from tenants and their advisers, to enforcement officers, lawyers and journalists.

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