On a night when it would be very easy for the NLA to bury its head in the sand and try to pretend that there were not problems in the private-rented sector, it is even more important for those responsible providers of accommodation to recognise our role in finding solutions.
Professional trade bodies, like the NLA, spend a lot of time talking about the need for local authorities and other enforcement bodies to be more proactive in their approach to tackling the very worst offenders.
These criminal operators all too often get away with the provision of poor quality and often dangerous housing by targeting those households with limited access to alternative accommodation. These households, often made up of vulnerable individuals, sometimes don’t know how to access better property, but far too often there simply isn’t enough available.
The obvious fact is that demand for good quality, good value, accommodation has not kept pace with supply.
One of the outcomes of this situation, the one which gets all of the media attention, is that rents rise. In certain areas of the country this is true, no-body can deny that in certain parts of London and the South East rent levels have followed a striking upward path.
However, for many other less glamorous areas of the country (usually those less popular with journalists) the result has been a lack of good housing providers, the responsible landlords able to compete with the rogues and demonstrate what private rented property should look like in twenty-first century Britain.
Today’s estimates project a need for more than 3 million new homes by 2020. At todays rates fewer than 150,000 are being completed annually.
Unless these figures changes drastically we will not build our way out of this situation any time soon, meaning that we have to look at how we put the stock we have to better use.
As the campaign on Channel 4 tonight has shown, a good start would be to get empty homes back into use. According to the Empty Homes Agency thee are around 350,000 (AKA 3 years of new building) long-term empty properties in England at the moment.
At an even more basic level, more good quality homes can be created simply by allowing decent landlords to provide them. Throughout the country dozens of local authorities are currently using planning rules to prevent landlords offering new affordable homes (Article Four Directions). Likewise many councils are designating new areas of landlord licensing.
These authorities are doing this, for the most part, for all the right reasons. They want to ‘improve’ their locality. Unfortunately what these schemes actually do, when used too liberally, is prevent the law abiding from challenging and competing with the rogues.
The responsible landlord, who invests in his or her properties, takes note of restrictions on shared housing or chooses to move elsewhere because of the cost of compliance makes business unviable. The criminal operator, working under the radar, takes no notice and quickly becomes the only option for those in the most need.
Today’s campaign is called ‘The Great British Property Scandal’ and much of what has been highlighted is truly scandalous. But some of the ‘solutions’ can prove just as harmful when they’re not thought through.
There are real ways that we can all help improve matters – with some common sense and a little more co-operation.
Above all we must make sure there is always an alternative to renting from a rogue landlord.