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Jonathan Rolande: How I would rescue the buy-to-let sector

Every year the media writes a lot about house price crashes, and often pose the question whether this is the year for property owners to be really worried about the market collapsing. 

In reality, even during the most challenging of economic environments, the market pulls through.  Yet can the same be said for the crisis which continues to grip the buy to let sector?

With each passing year I grow more concerned about how sustainable things are. 

Rising numbers of landlords are now exiting the system, with soaring costs and tough rules prompting many to get out while they can. 

For me the rot really started setting in around seven years ago. 

The change of tax rules in 2017 that stopped landlords being able to claim tax relief on interest payments were actually nothing more than a tax-grab. 

It was brought in under the guise of making a more level playing field for owner-occupier buyers who could not claim relief on their mortgage payments. Little was said at the time about the fact that owner-occupiers could sell for a profit and pay no tax, whereas landlords would be caught with hefty capital gains tax. According to Hamptons, the rule change has resulted in 256,000 fewer rental homes and this has fuelled shortages and consequently also led to rent increases.

The Government is walking a tightrope on the issue. If they make BTL too attractive then investors will flock to it and thus price out homebuyers  - albeit, increasing supply which will suppress rents. 

Yet, if they continue to make it difficult, then more landlords exit and fewer replace them. 

The share of households occupied by private renters in England from 2000 to 2023 has increased from 10% to 18%. It is fair to say that many of the millions of additional tenants are content to rent, enjoying the relative ease of moving and not worrying about things like repairs. But my guess is that the majority would rather buy but are unable to as prices and mortgage rates are too high to make it viable. The additional impact of high rents makes saving a deposit impossible.

In addition to a massive expansion of house building we need to see a managed reduction in private BTL. We need a system that allows those that are able, and who want to buy their home, to do so whilst still having sufficient room in the market for those that don’t wish to buy or, for whatever reason, cannot. 

But rather than lurch from one policy to the next, which creates fear and uncertainty for landlords, we need a clear managed course of action that is seen through – unlike proposals to force improvement works for EPCs or cancel Section 21s for example. 

Among the Measures I would like to see announced are.

Effective National Landlord Licencing: The current system is a mess. Some councils have licensing, while some don’t. A national scheme for landlords at a realistic rate would help to further professionalise the system. The license itself would need to be displayed somewhere within the let property, and it would need to be renewed annually.

It would contain information on rights and whistleblowing. They could introduce a flat fee of around £350 a year, on the owner (not the number of properties) which could be reduced if they use a managing agent. This would generate around £900m a year to police both the sector and many of the woeful Housing Associations and Councils who neglect their legal obligations.

Rogue landlords and inefficient landlords would be more open to scrutiny. And public trust would increase.

The Government must rule out rent capping once and for all. It doesn’t work.

We also need to offer enhanced tax relief to landlords who improve energy efficiency. Rental properties are amongst the worst performers for efficiency, costing more to heat for the very people who can often afford it the least. In short, spend £500 on insulation – get tax relief as if you’d spent £1000.

Insecurity when letting, is a common complaint currently made by many tenants. Abolishing fixed term tenancies aims to address that. I’d go further. We should encourage long-term lets with built-in reasonable rent increases annually. Taper tax relief for landlords with higher rates for short term lets, reducing each year for long-term tenants. This encourages landlords to allow tenants to build a life in their home rather than just having a roof in the short term.

And, finally, can we please just build some council houses?

The problems in the BTL market are immense, -we need a strong voice in Government to put us on the path to solving them.



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