It seems to me that some people still think of landlords as a mean spirited, greedy species living off the misfortune of others, providing accommodation that even your pet hamster might balk at, but while that may have been true in the days of Rackman and his henchmen, things are very different now.
Since the Buy-to-Let revolution in the mid nineties, so much legislation has been passed that woe betide the lazy landlord who doesn’t renew his gas safety certificate or install fire doors. We are legally bound to provide clean, safe, sound homes for a vast spectrum of tenants, from those on benefits to the CEO of an American conglomerate. In fact, far from being “a way for the rich to exploit the poor” it seems that landlords are providing an alternative to the housing situation that is now being led by unrealistic prices and the shifting demographics.
Here is what Michael Ball, Professor of Urban and Property Economics at the University of Reading Business School, had to say in his paper for ARLA. “By offering genuine housing market choice for the first time for almost three generations, Buy-to-Let has given many households options that previous generations did not have. This is especially true for younger households who both have characteristics, particularly high mobility, catered for effectively by Buy-to-Let, and financial circumstances that restrict access to owner occupation. Life-style choices have encouraged many of them into private renting but, for others, the barrier of the declining affordability of owner occupation and the difficulty of raising necessary down-payments have led to renting being the preferred option.”
Quite so. By making that choice, renters have avoided the threat of negative equity, the manic pressure to save and the blight that it can have on their lifestyle. Renting is the lower risk option, which is why there is such demand today. Far from exploiting the situation I have felt from the start that young people today prefer the flexibility that renting gives them when they are starting out in their careers. Statistically we know that people get married later now and the average age of the first time buyer has risen from 27 in 1977 to 34 today, hence the demand. In European capitals, of course, most people rent indefinitely and it looks as if London may be heading that way. This is great news for landlords but actually, the life of a tenant is blissfully stress free when you think about it. They don’t have to worry about the fabric of the building and if anything goes wrong, they just snap their fingers and the landlord calls Rated People.
I’m fully aware of the fact that not being able to get a foothold on the property ladder is a source of great anxiety for some people but I feel that the British stance on home-ownership is slowly shifting.
For the last 20 years a girlfriend of mine has lived in a vast pile in the country that her husband rents from a great estate (they have never owned a home of their own). During the recent floods most of the ground floor was under water so they were re-housed during the emergency. “It was bliss,” she told me. “Four months in another house and when we got home the whole place had been replastered, we had new stone floors and fresh paint everywhere. Didn’t cost us a penny. God I love renting.”