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Property Hawk

Rent controls on the agenda

Any landlord who follows London politics will not have escaped the fact that the private rented sector has been propelled centre stage as never before. The preliminary polls for the London Mayoral Election show that the main candidates are neck & neck as they slug it out for every last vote.

In the red corner is the old street fighter, more cagey than cage fighter, – Ken Livingstone.  In the Blue corner, it’s the big bruiser - bumbling Boris Johnson. A couple of funny characters, but landlords take note - this is serious!


Red Ken is not just talking about tweaking Tory policies and adding the odd new art gallery (ala New Labour).  No Ken is hell bent on his own London based socialist revolution.  A major part of this is his proposal to bring back rent controls.


Rent control proposals

Firstly Ken rightly ascertains that London rents are high relative to rents in other parts of the country.  But there are several reasons for that.  London is a global city and therefore demand for accommodation is a global one (you only have to count the number of different languages on show on any bus trip).  It is also by far the most prosperous part of the UK and therefore people are prepared to pay more to get a slice of the action.  Finally, thanks to restrictive planning policies and dare I say it the last governments push towards an affordable housing tax on developers supply levels remain severely restricted.


According to Ken’s analysis Londoners pay an average of 50% of their income on rent.  Now if Ken is elected he wants to single handedly reduce this to a third. 

How?  Well good question.

At the moment Ken’s 'big idea' is seemingly to set up a London wide letting agents.  I will refer to this from now on as ‘Kenlets’, but I'm guessing it probably wouldn't be called this, even though I think it sounds a pretty catchy brand. 

Now I'm presuming that ‘Kenlets’ will not charge landlords as much to let their property as some of the upmarket letting agents. This would allow landlords to reduce their rents fractionally, but nothing like the amount that Ken is aiming for.   So how will he achieve his proposal of a living rent?

Well currently he doesn’t exactly say how. He does however let slip in this interview with the Guardian that he’s happy to enforce a rent cap: which are not two words that landlords particularly enjoy to hear together 'rent and cap'.

In the article Ken comments that  “You need legal powers to do that that the mayor doesn't have. This is the first stage in creating what we used to have, which is proper rent controls. We will work with good landlords who want to co-operate with us to have a proper, reasonable rent that Londoners can afford.”

Which sounds to me like he is pretty keen on the idea of implementing rent controls.


Proposal flawed on two levels

I can see a couple of flaws and some of you out there might see a few more.

The central proposition is that  Ken will somehow be able to drive down high rents which actually exist because of the market imbalance resulting from high demand and restricted supply. 

This smacks of some kind of Louis XIV proportioned arrogance.  His proposed rental controls will as they have done in the pasthave a negative effect over the supply and quality of the private rental sector.

Firstly many landlords would be driven out of the letting business, resulting as any fool knows with less property to rent, resulting in tighter tenancy laws to give tenants greater security of tenure and prevent more landlords selling up.

Secondly it would result in a shrinking private sector and underinvestment by the remaining landlords who have no incentive to invest in a property where they are unable to raise the rent to market levels.

“Ken, surely you are old enough to remember this from the last time? It was tried and failed!.”


Lessons of history

So far this decade we have had a banking crisis brought about by government greed and incompetent de-regulation.
Now we have a national politician looking to regulate the private rented sector out of existence. Do we learn nothing from history?

What starts in London often spreads to the UK.  So landlords need to be on their guard from politicians surfing a wave of negative opinion over perceived financial market failure to justify greater regulation of the private rental sector.

Leave your comments in the box below

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Comments (15)

Hon Alderman Mrs
What a good idea. Rents are much too high. I am a landlord.
#1 - Carol Dey - 02/10/2012 - 11:29
Governments should let market forces provail and stop interfearing.Other wise controle is lost or rather cast adrift.
#2 - mr stuart Large - 02/10/2012 - 11:38
So as red Ken caused public transport to run at a loss for years, helped cause the Met police to become ineffectual with some of his policies, he now wants to cause more homelessness as landlords will simply sell up and do something else. Let's hope Londoners see sense and vote for, well, anything really apart from Red Ken!
#3 - Martin - 02/10/2012 - 12:06
Complete lunacy. As a multi-property landlord and developer, the answer is simple. Reduce the planning controls on building and converting, reduce the red tape, reduce the taxes on developers eg s106 and infrastructure contributions. This will enable us to build more, thus increasing supply and reducing the rents.
#4 - Joe - 02/10/2012 - 12:40
In the post today Ireceived a flier from a big builder. One side was printed in English. The other side in Polish. Its something called the FIRST BUY SCHEME. In essence a step onto the housing ladder with help from the government. But we are already an overcrowded country so why get even more here by giving them help.
The basic rule is that there is enough housing, enough roads, enough food etc. Just to many people.
And lots of people chasing to few properties equals a market place where rents / purchase prices of houses rise .
#5 - Nige - 02/10/2012 - 13:44
Ken is saying it to get votes from the renting community. Probably his analysts advising him on that. There are more renters than landlords so the net would be an increased vote number, but may not really care about the issue.I think the market should be left to itself, and if London is to accommodate the most productive individuals, then let rents stay high - those who earn enough money should stay and those who don't can move on. It would lead to a concentration of expertise that will help grow us out of the recession. A fair minimum would be that rents increase with RPI. If earning-power is increasing an area, then rents should go up higher than RPI, to reflect the beneficial affluency conferred by businesses in that area. High rents incentivise high earnings leading to higher taxes, good for the government. There are plenty of cheaper nice places to live in the UK for those who want to pay less rent (but they probably won't earn as much as in London, or enjoy the city life).
#6 - Bill - 02/10/2012 - 14:48
Well as the government have managed to screw up most of what they are put in charge of. i think its about time we as landlords have the choice to charge what the market dictates. if the tenants are not happy with the rent (believe me i have tenants fighting over my properties)then no one is asking them to live in them or live in the capital.

Mike L
#7 - Mike Lambrou - 02/10/2012 - 15:45
Mrs Alderman. yes of course you are! So what stops you charging whatever rent you want?

Silly people. What amazes me, being a landlord of some 35 years standing, and a good one, is that some people seem to think that wages can go up, food prices go up, but rents somehow shouldn't?

Rent restrictions are the quickest way to accelerate further any accommodation shortages, just like the muddled Liberal intervention on capital gains tax.

Did you know for example that long term landlords like myself had our index relief STOLEN from us retrospectively so that tax allowances earned over many years were suddenly taken away retrospectively, and where retrospective taxing is suggested to be illegal? WHere if you applied that to pensions there would be uproad if people were asked to pay back tax because their tax allowances for years past had been changed now?

What is so riiculous is it rewards speculators, who with their tax allowanmces can make £10,000 tax free in a year, or £20,000 as a couple, for buying and reselling, yet the long term landlord is now punished for being long term, and actually contributing both in tax and accommodation for letting.

I have two families I would dearly love to upgrade to 3 bed. houses, who are currently living in 2 bed. flats. Everyone would gain, I would charge more rent, pay more tax and finally pay more CGT if I sold without ploughing it into a bigger rental property.

Can't do anything like that though, because having stolen that allowance, there is no incentive for long term property ownership, as even the capital employed is not even protected against the ravages of inflation, so you could buy a property for £200,000, and in ten years if inflation was 5% you could end up paying tax on any gain, that still meant your capital had not even kept pace with inflation!

Most people don't realise that residential property is not considered a business asset, and treated like 'unearned income' which is the craziest idea ever, as i'm counsellor, debt financial advisor, friend, and confidente to most of my tenants, and pleased to be so, but how on earth anyone can suggest it should be treated like 'unearned income'. They haven't got a clue!

Likewise, property then is treated as a personal asset even though I pay tax on it as a letting account, and HMRC benefits from full disclosure of all rents and profits, as it shouild.

So then I want to upgrade by selling a property I've held for 25 years, a 2 bed. flat worth £150,000, bought for £40,000, and straight away a 28% CGT tax liability, because OUR allowances were stolen.

That has to be taken off the proceeds, whether I buy another property for my tenants or not, so it actually PRECLUDES me upgrading them, stops them paying a higher rent for a much better property, and reduces HMRC's tax take, both in terms of rental and the 10% CGT they would have got with all my indexation relief that was stolen.

RESULT: I keep the property, the tenant lives in cramped conditions. I won't buy any more, as there is no guarantee capital will even keep pace with inflation.....So how does that help people going for accommodation?

This silly talk about 'affordable housing' is another muddled term, as in the main it is far more expensive than anything provided. Just because the rent may seem 'affordable', what it really means is its below market value, and is subsidised in one way or another, and then couched in sillly terms like NOT FOR PROFIT, as if not making a profit is some wonderful achievement?

Look at the car parks of these organisations though, and they are often full of brand new cars, so not surprising they don't make a profit, but clever people DO.

When you add all the subsidies together, the 'affordable homes' are only affordable to those presumed to be worthy of them, but then should not everyone in society have the same option?

I hade tenants via an 'affordable rent' scheme whereby my property was used by social housing for 'affordable' rents, where the tenants visited Florida 3 times a year. On another occasion, I had tenants who owned 3 restaurants and 3 plated taxicabs.....all deemed to be worthy of 'affordable rents'.

So rent caps. should be seen as what they are, MUDDLED THINKING
#8 - jakob - 02/10/2012 - 16:48
Livingstone
The more people that listen to the tripe that Livingstone has spouted out all his life the more worried I will become.
#9 - David Wallwork - 02/10/2012 - 17:03
What next? Put a cap on property prices?
#10 - Clive - 02/10/2012 - 17:27
Lessons from history
We have had rent controls in the past. With rents set by rent officers. When the returns on BTL are pushed down so will the volume of avalablity and so will the standard of accomadtion as tenants become more desparate chasing less and less vacancies. There is no such thing as a free lunch for tenants. we been down that road and it doesn't work
#11 - GRAHAM CHILVERS - 02/10/2012 - 20:23
#7
I'm aghast at Mr Lambrou's comments. You're effectively advocating driving people out of the capital, and this deprive them of professional opportunities which mostly exist in a metropolis. I would hate to be your tenants, as you only seem to be hell bent on profiteering, without considering that you also have the unspoken responsibility to play a social role. By your surname I gather you are either Greek or Greek Cypriot, you have obviously lost touch with the hospitality your compatriots are famous for. Shameful.
#12 - John - 02/11/2012 - 15:31
Self Regulation
The market rent is the equilibrium which is achived by all the forces in society.
If you fixed this point then the other factors would change to rebalance the situation. the most likly result would be that there would be an increase in demand as people moved from high unemployment areas to London for a better balance of income against rent. If supply did not increase then you would have Communist era queues with its attendant black market and tax evasion.

As there would be no financial pressure to maintain and improve property, then the standard of rented homes would fall, Rent Cap Blight !!

The best solution would be to adjust the things that will change the balance in a less destructive way. Make improved supply a target for the planning system and cap the housing benifit availiable in high rent areas to people whon do not have strong links to that area. (Red Ken will love setting up a bureaucracy to issue points for this one.)

Surly its better to subsidise people to live a decent life in somewhere like Hastings than in Brixton?

It's said that only the poor and prosperous can afford to live in London, if you are in the middle god help you.

I have a tennant in this trap he lost his job and went on benifits, unfortunatly he foolishly got another job and is now in a mess. He (and I) would have been in a lot better position if he had stayed on benifits. I'm not evil, I let him have time to get things sorted out, helped him with the council and only chare £395 pcm which is at the lower end of the area market rent for a very nice flat.

Nobody jumped to my defence when my pension and savings were trashed by the crash! I was forced to do somthing to survive ie Landlords are human beings to !

When people come up with policies that "only hurt Landlords" remember that a lot of us have had a kicking to, we are only guilty of trying to work our way out of it.
#13 - Downtrodden Dave - 02/12/2012 - 13:10
laughable
If Ken sets up his regime of rent cotrols, many landlords will just sell their rental properties, and there will be an even greater shortage of property to rent. This will lead to more Van Hoogstraaten and Rackmann type people providing illegal and uninhabitable hovels for desperate people to live in. The answer, ken , is for the GLA and the government to build new Public Housing paid for from our taxes. By the way, does anyone actually know where the government spends our taxes ?
#14 - lewis brand - 04/06/2012 - 18:52
Useful info on this site, but only if it's current.... please show the article dates for practical reference purposes. Nothing worse than being misled by an article into thinking that something or a situation is current, when it applies to years ago and things may very well have changed since to be completely inapplicable. Thank you!
#15 - suzy - 09/27/2013 - 19:00
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