With a little luck, and a great deal of thanks to an online translator, that should mean Wales welcomes private landlords.
Whether you believe this I suspect will depend upon your attitude and exposure to the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in Wales. Either way, the National Assembly of Wales definitely welcomed the National Landlords Association (NLA) and its members to debate the PRS on the 24th of February, ahead of the election in May.
Our thanks must go to Conservative shadow housing minister Mark Isherwood AM for arranging for the NLA to take over two of the Assembly’s committee rooms for the evening, and also for representing the opposition in an enlightening hustings event.
In addition to Mr Isherwood we were fortunate to be joined by Mike Hedges AM of Welsh Labour, Peter Black AM, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for housing in the Welsh Assembly, James Radcliffe the Plaid Cymru candidate for Bridgend and Anthony Slaughter, the deputy leader of the Welsh Green Party.
Each party representative gave a comprehensive introduction to their party’s policies affecting the private rented sector in Wales, followed by a lively Q&A session with the landlords in attendance. Unsurprisingly, this led to some disagreement and the politicians undoubtedly left with a much greater awareness of the concerns of the landlord community.
Throughout a varied and at times very detailed hustings session, chaired by the NLA’s own Richard Lambert, the main topics of discussion ranged from the impact of the Welsh Government’s reforms to the impending introduction of HMO planning restrictions and even found consensus on the matter of leasehold reform.
Responding to questions from the floor, all of the invited panelists agreed that a priority for the next Assembly must be leasehold reform to ensure that landlords and residents receive fairer, better value and more transparent treatment by block managers. As leasehold properties become more prevalent in Welsh towns and cities, it seems that the next few years could witness a Wales-specific process of long-lease reform.
However, there was no such agreement when the questioning turned to permitted development rights for small HMOs, with the parties disagreeing on the most appropriate definition for a ‘small’ unit of shared housing. Mr Hedges, on behalf of the Welsh Government which has recently announced that landlords will need to seek permission to convert ‘family’ housing to the new C4 use class, sought to defend the changes. Mr Isherwood proposed the use of planning restrictions to deal with identified ‘hotspots’ in a similar fashion to the way the policy applies in England, but not nationwide. On the other hand, both James Radcliffe and Anthony Slaughter agreed that planning changes may be justified but that the threshold of three individuals across two or more households was too low and advocated allowing larger households to remain below the cut-off.
Throughout all of the debate, the impact of the ongoing PRS reforms introduced by the current government steered questions back to the belief of many landlords in attendance that, despite the burdens imposed, there would be little benefit for those working and living in the PRS, especially given the reluctance of enforcement bodies to use the powers available to them to crack down on the poor behaviour of bad landlords and tenants alike.
NLA representative for Wales, Lee Cecil, took the opportunity to call on all parties to back proposals for a PRS-specific advisory panel to help steer future policy decisions – a suggestion that was largely welcomed by the panel and will be followed up after the election is out of the way.
Bringing the meeting to a close the panel was asked to elaborate on any plans their respective parties may have for using existing and planned tax raising powers in respect of landlords in Wales. In response, no party currently has any plans to raise or low landlord taxes – although both Plaid and the Greens have long-standing plans to reduce the rate of VAT on refurbishment to 5 per cent if given the opportunity.
That being said, no party definitively rules out changes to taxation or took the opportunity to announce plans to undue the harm wrought by the Chancellor in Westminster.