Looking for a home? A private rental should be your first choice

The Residential Landlords Association today launched a manifesto for the General Election which calls on political parties to support the rental sector as it attempts to meet the incredible stresses placed on it by rising house prices and immigration.

The Association is right, obviously. But we also need to work on making excessive tenant fees a thing of the past, to stop prospective tenants being put off renting by the charges made necessary by the greed and inefficiency of traditional estate agents.

Landlords are a slice of the private sector that the Government should be listening to: according to Residential Landlords Association estimates, individual private landlords invest some £50 billion a year in rental homes. Stymieing this explosive growth at present are the in come cases outrageous fees charged by middlemen who sit between tenants and landlords and cream off substantial percentages while adding remarkably little value.

Frankly, it’s a wonder the market has tolerated them for so long, given how much the incompetence and avarice of traditional estate agency must fuel misplaced resentment against landlords from consumer groups such as Generation Rent.

The RLA put out a call in its manifesto to landlords, appealing to them to invest in new properties, in order to provide tenants with more options when they come to rent a home. Of course that is a noble goal, but it is jeopardised by profiteering from estate agents.

For many people, renting a home is no less an emotional experience than buying one: they want the process to be as smooth and as painless as practicably possible. That’s tough to accomplish when wide boys in shiny suits sit between you and the tenant, demanding hundreds of pounds to get basic, boilerplate paperwork filled out.

Other recommendations put forth by the RLA include changes to planning and tax rules to encourage the sale of rental properties to first-time buyers. It’s a good idea: sometimes tenants become so attached to the house they’ve rented they want to snap it up and live in it for years to come. So whatever the Government can do to help them will be welcome.

The RLA has also called for “more rigorous enforcement of powers to tackle the small minority of criminal operators who bring the sector into disrepute.” No one can argue with that: that tiny number of bad actors reflect poorly on one of the UK’s most healthy and vital verticals.

Chairman Alan Ward said: “Faced with financial and staffing pressures, local authorities need a genuine intelligence based approach to enforcing regulations robustly. A national register of landlords would simply become a register of good landlords. No criminal operator would ever willingly make themselves known.

“Our proposal would be more effective. The criminals could not evade scrutiny, and where tenants were unable to identify their landlord this would provide councils with the information they need to target properties of concern – a truly intelligence based approach.”

The interests of tenants and landlords are not at odds: often, they’re the same, as the RLA demonstrates. Policy from the Government should strengthen the already excellent relationships most landlords have with most tenants, and focus on removing anachronistic middlemen, rather than souring the strong and mutually beneficial bond between owners and renters.