Legislating yourself out of the game…

An announcement last weekend from Secretary of State for Housing, Sajid Javid that the Government  is putting its weight behind a Private Members Bill (PMB) that aims to hand more power to tenants has increased the chance of the said bill becoming law. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards ) Bill-try saying that after three bacardis-seeks to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985  to require that residential rented accommodation is provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation. MPs voted unanimously to pass the bill earlier this week allowing it to move to the Committee stage where more detailed examination of what it proposes will take place. It has the support of some landlords’ groups including the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA), whose vice-chairman Douglas Haig said, “..if we look sensibly at things, what it is asking for is what most landlords would already expect to be law”. Quite. I have to ask whether should the bill be passed if this sounds the death knell for Rent Smart Wales as this was created to give tenants greater powers and make more money for the Welsh Assembly..oops, did I actually type that? Despite supporting the bill, Mr Haig did voice concern on behalf of his association members that tenants would be able to enforce things themselves and that it would encourage so called ‘stealth action’ by tenants trying to get compensation from landlords. Before any hand wringers reading this start wittering (and hand wringing whilst looking up the number of their local ambulance-chasing solicitors’ firm), may I suggest that Douglas and the RLA are having their attention diverted away from two very relevant if socially unpalatable points:

  1. Why is there no campaign by an MP to introduce a PMB ‘The Homes (What if the Tenant Pays No Rent and Leaves the Place Unfit for Human Habitation) Bill? The Commons seems remarkably quiet on that one.
  2. What will MP’s or landlord associations do about the sudden rise of call centres ringing up with the “Hello Mr Tenant, have you got damp in your property, has your landlord offered to do anything about it?” Forget PPI and the car that you don’t own and wasn’t driving having been involved in an accident, this will be the next growth industry. Never mind, all the people who were working for Rent Smart Wales can now pop across to the call centre. Just think how much the list of landlords and their properties would be worth; they would be the only person driving to work a shift in a call centre in a brand new Maserati. As you can see, my new years resolution to be less cynical is hitting the buffers and we haven’t even got to the end of January.

We have for a while been in an age of horrible, nasty landlords and big bad letting agents (cue booing and hissing from the audience) and of course, some of this has merit.  Let us remember that most landlords do provide good accommodation and have no control over whether their tenant dries half a ton of washing a week over the radiators and then complains to Environmental Health about the black mold growing on the window that is affecting their (possibly borrowed) baby’s health and now they have to take Kylie-Anne-Chelsea-Kayleigh to the doctor. Nor do the landlords have any recourse to preventing their tenant leaving weeks of fast food cartons stacked outside-or in some cases-inside the property. Cue another call to Environmental Health about rats. Trust me, with some of the properties that I have had to visit over the years, you wouldn’t need the Pied Piper but the entire wind section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Of course tenants need protection from unscrupulous landlords, but increasing amounts of legislation will only lead to one thing; more costs to the tenant, something that everyone seems to be making a conscious effort to ignore. Single property landlords are now starting to get out of the business leading to a shortage of rental properties. What happens then? The tenants suffer as rents go up. Of course there is no need to panic about the call centres working on a no win, no fee basis for claims about bad housing, we can provide insurance against that. There will be a premium to pay and guess who will pay that and recoup the expenditure? Correct, and the rent will go up.

Finally, speaking of unpalatable truths, it is a year since the inauguration of the most dubious haircut to ever occupy the hot seat in the Oval Office and what is there to show for it other than an increase in the purchase of hair spray and the associated hole in the ozone layer? The lowest level of unemployment since records began, the biggest bull market on Wall Street again, since records began and 3% economic growth that the experts deemed “impossible”. Regardless of the how, why or WTF, he got somewhere that 99.9999% of the population don’t and that doesn’t happen by being a complete mug. Just an observation.