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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards

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Why are landlords so unpopular?

This question is not as flippant as it sounds because over recent years the status of the private landlord has taken a monumental plunge. But why?

Readers of a certain age may remember that landlords were once seen as a positive force in society, to be respected.

They provided accommodation which was an alternative to the dowdy and institutional council housing, a good option for those who could not afford the deposit to buy, and a perfect solution for people wanting the flexibility to move frequently.

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Add to that, the Thatcher era told society that buy to let was also a good investment to top up an inadequate pension, making being a landlord a canny and socially useful act.

Fast forward to today and, in one way, nothing has changed.

Private renting is indeed still an attractive alternative to fast-dwindling council accommodation, as over 1.5m council homes have been sold under Right To Buy.

Deposits remain absurdly high - Rightmove says that first time buyer deposits are up 56 per cent in the past decade, compared to private rents rising 40 per cent.

Being able to move relatively quickly remains attractive to some, especially since the pandemic has altered priorities, plus - as we are told so often - state pensions remain inadequate, and government advice is that individuals should augment them whenever possible ... so of course buy to let is still seen as an investment.

In another way, however, everything has changed.

Activists in pressure groups and politicians on the ‘Boris Johnson right’ have joined forces to paint landlords as greedy, uncaring individuals and - with an unshifting Trump-like certainty - they regard surveys and official statistics daring to show the contrary as fake news.

Landlords also now seem fair game for direct action in a way that would be unheard of in the past.

I know of one London property owned by a Putin-backing billionaire that has been the subject of direct action, yet have reported many times on landlords and letting agents whose homes have been picketed by activists. Clearly supporting an unprovoked war is less concerning to some than providing homes.

All of this is without stating the obvious financial and practical stats which show that being a landlord is more difficult and less profitable now than at any time for a generation.

For those wanting details, just look up stories about the scrapping of Section 24, the additional costs of conforming with health and safety legislation, upcoming costs to comply with Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards and now - just a few days ago - the suggestion that landlords should fund disability-friendly and accessibility features.

The irony is that many of the changes and new regulations may be individually justifiable and appropriate.

But they come on top of accelerating abuse of landlords by politicians and pressure groups, and a growing intolerance on the left and right about rising rents - intolerance rarely directed at, say, rising house prices or the costs of alcohol, or hikes in council tax.

Against that landscape, the imposition of new regulation after new regulation (no matter how individually reasonable) appears more like a campaign of intimidation than a genuine effort to improve renting. Hence, many buy to let landlords are fleeing the sector.

There’s one additional factor of course, with the growing Build To Rent niche becoming more overtly critical of buy to let landlords - so, for the first time, part of the private rental sector is criticising another part. This is money talking, not altruism.

Build To Rent is the preserve of profit-centric institutions and agencies, and as a sector may be unhappy that it’s become caricatured as expensive, out-of-town and simply bland. Heavily reliant on future support from government, it prefers to cosy up to politicians than to fight for widespread support for landlords of all kinds, across private renting.

So will the unpopularity of landlords increase further? I wouldn’t bet against it - just read some of Michael Gove’s recent comments.

And whilst such unpopularity might bring out only the tiniest of violins from opponents, it’s worth remembering that buy to let landlords have provided millions of homes for millions of people in recent years.

And that’s more than can be said for the activist groups…

*Editor of Letting Agent Today and Landlord Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn

  • Rob Bryer

    I have been thinking about this a lot recently. Being both agent and property owner I feel it's time for a rebrand. The name "Landlord" is outdated and sends the wrong message. We are not lords we are property providers. I don't know what the new name should be but something like "Home provider" immediately conjures up a better image.

  • Matthew Payne

    Turkeys voting for Christmas again.

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    Thanks to the Gov, left wing groups and the media giving them both the time of day - that's why. Pity they don't say what tenants are like! There are 10x as many nightmare tenants than landlords, if not more.

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    Agree with Rob.. "Home Provider" has a thumbs up from me.

    Why are landlords so unpopular?
    Simple really ......because the self entitled generation can't get their own way.

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