The beginning of 2009 saw difficult conditions in the property sales market. As sales ground to a halt increasing numbers of ‘reluctant landlords’ entered the private-rented sector. These landlords decide to rent their property out while they wait for the market to improve, but without experience many fall foul of the many rules and regulations required of landlords. Ignorance of everything from tenancy deposit protection to gas safety certificates not only causes problems for tenants, but gives the landlord profession a bad name.
As difficult economic conditions continued to bite increasing numbers of tenants fell behind with their rent. The NLA revealed 74% of calls to the NLA Advice Line were from landlords concerned about rental arrears. But it wasn’t just arrears; the Advice Line took calls on everything from energy performance certificates to letting agent renewal fees.
Cannabis factories in rental properties continued to hit the news, with landlords losing out when their homes are used to grow cannabis. Horror stories abound of internal walls knocked down and fires from faulty electrics. The police and NLA offered advice for landlords on spotting a cannabis factory. These include blacked out windows, heat emitting from the property, and pungent smells. Landlords, you have been warned.
Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the new way of paying housing benefit was been in operation for a year, but the system was failing. Tenants in receipt of LHA were now paid directly and must choose whether to pass the money on to their landlord. In practice this often failed to happen, leaving many landlords with severe rental arrears and struggling to pay their mortgages. In response, the NLA began its campaign to get direct payments reinstated.
Government published its long awaited response to the Rugg Review which proposed a landlords register. The requirement for all landlords to submit details of their property holdings at the time of registration and re-registration each year caused the most concern. A similar compulsory landlord registration scheme has existed in Scotland for three years and has been shown not to work. The NLA labelled the plans ‘well meaning, but flawed’.
Treasury Select Committee into mortgage arrears and the availability of mortgage finance invited the NLA to speak, as the leading voice on landlord issues. Giving evidence, the NLA suggested landlords had significant difficulties in buying and selling property as well as refinancing existing portfolios. This was crippling the opportunity for landlords to grow their portfolio, while contributing to the housing shortfall.
The NLA Property Women Awards celebrate the cream of the crop of female landlords in the private-rented sector. Inspiring stories emerged of women who are running successful lettings businesses, while providing the highest standards of service and care for their tenants.
John Denham MP proposed plans to stop the ‘studentification’ of areas, by restricting houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). Unfortunately, these plans not only affected students. Property experts said that using planning laws to restrict HMOs would raise rents and drive out the students, young professionals and migrant workers who rent them because they are an important source of affordable housing.
Many thousands of tenants were using landlords who claim to be professionals yet lack even the most basic understanding of how to manage their lettings business. Members of the NLA abide by the highest standards of private-residential letting.
Proposals outlined by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) aimed to bring buy-to-let within the FSA’s regulatory regime to ‘protect consumers making investment decisions on property’. The NLA feels the ‘devil is in the detail’ and although increased protection for smaller, less experienced landlords may be welcome, professional landlords who treat their lettings as a business will not require the same level of protection.
The NLA National Conference saw landlords from around the UK question Ian Austin MP in a longer than scheduled question and answer session. Landlords were keen to discover exactly how a national register would root out the rogues. LHA, the licensing of letting agents and tenancy deposit protection were also discussed, but the landlord register remained the controversial topic for discussion and is returned to again and again. Austin admits ‘we want to tackle the minority of rogue landlords’.
An unexpected Christmas present arrived in the form of a Government review of LHA – with the agreement to re-examine direct payments to landlords. The NLA, along with housing charities, welcomed this, but warned that the ‘consultation is by no means perfect’. The NLA continues to campaign for proper safeguards which ensure councils are able to deal with tenancies that get into difficulties quickly and effectively.