Opportunity for landlords to have their voice heard
Landlords and letting agents are used to being unfairly demonised by politicians and the media, but it is important that they resist the urge to retreat into a shell or stop speaking to opponents, says John Blackwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL).
Over the past few years, negative rhetoric against the private rented sector (PRS) has been followed through by politicians bringing in a number of policy changes. Some of these changes will be positive, but some may have a negative impact on the ability of landlords to provide flexible accommodation in high quality homes. Here at SAL, we know that the private sector is part of the solution to the housing crisis, not the cause of it.
Impact of change in Scotland The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 will simplify the rental regime and reduce some bureaucracy but with the high price of ending the “no fault” ground for eviction. At the same time, the Scottish Government chose to follow the UK Government lead and imposed a tax on second home purchases, hitting the buy-to-let sector particularly hard.
The impact of these changes is already being felt and will only increase in the coming months. It is important, however, that if things go wrong, the sector resists the urge to simply call for the clock to be wound back or shout “I told you so” from the sidelines. The new ministerial team (Kevin Stewart MSP as housing minister with Angela Constance MSP responsible at cabinet level) is new to its brief.
That’s why they need to hear from SAL and its Council of Letting Agents (CLA), which together represent responsible landlords and agents who provide safe and well managed homes to tenants. What ministers want most is both to achieve improvements and to be seen to achieve improvements. What they definitely dislike is being told something is wrong without a solution being proposed. Naysayers get nowhere.
A new political impetus
Any thoughts that there might be no change to the new arrangements in the next few years will also be mistaken. There appears to be a political will for action with a sense that “something must be done” to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis. As a result, the PRS has become a convenient punch bag, with politicians imagining a group of Victorian slum landlords wilfully providing poor-quality housing. Such landlords do exist, mostly operating outside mandatory as well as voluntary standards. Because of this, we at SAL call for stricter enforcement of existing regulations to give them a chance to work before new measures are considered. This can surprise politicians who misunderstand the PRS. But driving these criminal landlords out of the market can only be good, protecting the majority of responsible landlords who not only provide high quality housing in an increasingly difficult market and with very small margins, but who also have a strong social conscience.
The new political impetus and focus on housing should be welcomed, but the PRS must ensure it is coming up with constructive solutions to achieve government objectives in a way that does not damage and could even support growth for landlords. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that some landlords are damaging the reputation of the industry and steps should be taken to drive these people out to help stop the vilification of the sector.
Shaping public opinion
So, how do we go about doing this? Well, first, the PRS must have the confidence, data and case studies to demonstrate where changes have failed and come forward with practical solutions. Failure to do this will result in our opponents simply saying measures didn’t go far enough and pressing for more extreme action.
Second, we need to engage with those businesses and individuals who rely on the PRS. These include those suppliers who are employed to help landlords meet the multiple safety standards and thus are providing extensive local employment.
Third, we must look to the broader societal need for the PRS. For example, a large number of businesses in urban and rural areas, such as in tourism and agriculture, have high levels of seasonal employment so rely on flexible accommodation for their workers. Without the PRS, these businesses couldn’t exist and workers wouldn’t have jobs.
Together we can build a broader picture of the need for the PRS and show politicians that the sector is capable of listening to and working with a range of organisations to find innovative practical solutions to address housing issues in Scotland.
Be part of the solution – contact your local MSP with your suggestions or join a landlord association, such as SAL and make your voice heard.