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Wednesday November 12, 2014

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I have enjoyed several rants on this blog regarding silly legislation which will ultimately harm those it is intended to help. Last month it was landlords being made responsible for checking immigrants’ status and right to reside in the UK. On that occasion Housing charity Shelter was on our side claiming the legislation could put landlords off tenants perceived as ‘risky’, that is to say, anyone with a foreign sounding name. In September it was Newcastle City Council and their Article 4 Direction which means that any landlord seeking to convert a residential property into shared accommodation must apply for planning permission. This will result in large homes in Gosforth, Jesmond and Heaton standing empty at a time when we desperately need more rented accommodation in those areas.

While central Government undoubtedly listen to Shelter through their forceful lobby, Newcastle City Council appears to have listened to nobody other than residents associations who have their own agenda. Nobody it would seem listens to those with experience in the private rental sector – landlords and their letting agents.

All too often landlords and agents are perceived as the problem, not part of the solution. While reputable landlords and agents welcome sensible regulation of the industry it is only the bad apples in the barrel who hit the headlines.

Shelter is currently lobbying Government to cap or abolish letting fees. Seeing this move as a quick route to cheaper rents is simplistic and naïve. While we believe in fee transparency so tenants know exactly what they are agreeing to, agent fees must come from somewhere. Staff, training, office accommodation, vehicles… the basics of any business, all cost money. By abolishing tenant fees, agents will be forced to pass the cost on to landlords. It is fairly obvious that landlords will then pass this fee on to tenants. So much lobbying and effort by Shelter to achieve a good result for tenants will have achieved precisely nothing.

Is this Damiano fighting his corner for Heaton Property and landlords? Well, to be fair, that is why we are in business, but that is not the whole story. Agents and landlords seek a fair deal for tenants. Happy tenants are long term tenants who will look after the lovely home they rent. Legislation to protect tenants is a good thing, if it is sensible and achieves reasonable objectives.

However all too often national and local legislation can actually defeat those good objectives because those in power have listened to single interest lobby groups without consulting those professionals who work in the private sector every day – landlords and their letting agents.

By regarding landlords and their agents in light of the very few irresponsible operators, authorities risk counter productive legislation which harms rather than helps the very tenants it seeks to protect. We do not have the lobbying power of large, national charities and it seems the voices of local residents associations carry more weight than us professionals. With an election looming and vote grabbing headlines aimed at tenants, I cannot see the situation improving in the coming months.

Only when the voice of landlords and agents is sought and heard will we achieve what everybody wants – vibrant, mixed communities; fair, transparent rents and a degree of security for both landlord and tenant. Because in the private rental sector, we really are all in this together.

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