Are they all the same? A Landlord’s quick guide to the General Election

23 04 2010

With the general election looming, and now less predictable than ever, I thought it would be a good time to refresh ourselves about what the main parties are proposing. Over the next week or so I’ll analyse what each of the main parties have been saying about the private rental market during the campaign but for today I thought I’d have a quick look through the manifestos to see what I can find.

To avoid any allegations of bias I’ll deal with the parties in alphabetical order.

First then the Conservatives. Their manifesto is headed “An Invitation to Join the Government of Britain” and so I was looking out for measures that could help private landlords meet more of the requirement for social housing. This is a subject close to my heart being based in an area like Stoke-on-Trent where social housing needs are so acute. Unfortunately there is nothing in the document to make it clear how the party would help utilise the army of private landlords who would be delighted to let to social tenants so long as the right safeguards were there.

Instead the manifesto focuses on improving the lot of social tenants by increasing their freedom to move from one property to another and even one area to another. How this will be achieved is not clear but presumably it will be with the removal of the bureaucracy currently involved. Assuming this change applies to social tenants in private accommodation and not just in council accommodation then it will certainly help Landlords as a reduction of bureaucracy will hopefully avoid the almost inevitable early arrears that arise because of delays in councils processing housing benefit changes.

The conservatives also propose measures to make it easier for social tenants to purchase their council homes and also to allow them to run businesses from them. Sensible ideas at face value though of little relevance to private landlords.

The Labour party manifesto contains no new surprises other than perhaps to NOT mention compulsory licensing of Landlords and Agents. It does however state that there will be a national register of Landlords so perhaps this amounts to the same thing. Previously vaunted proposals around this area have been augmented by mention of a legal right to a written tenancy agreement (something no sensible Landlord would be without already!), provision of free and impartial advice (such as already available from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau), and a new requirement to ensure that all rental properties are sufficiently insulated. This has received little publicity during the campaign but if implemented without sensitivity could cause considerable cost to some Landlords. My advice is to take up whatever free or subsidised insulation as is offered by councils from time to time to improve the housing stock in their areas.

In keeping with the new spirit of true three party democracy the Liberal Democrats have chosen to be equally light on detail in their manifesto when it comes to the private rental market. The words Tenant and Tenancy do not appear even a single time in their document. They have come up with one typically radical proposal regarding grants and loans to help bring 250,000 empty properties back onto the market. There will be grants available where this will create social housing and loans (terms unspecified!) where this will create new private lets. There is no doubt that we still face a shortage of quality rental housing stock so this move will certainly help. Owners of these properties will benefit although owners of competing properties may see slight downward pressure on rental values should a large number become available in a specific area.

So that’s a quick overview for now. I will take each party in turn over the next week or so to analyse what their changes will mean for our market.

Finally I will end with a shameless plug. On Thursday 17th June we are holding the first ever West Midlands Property Event at Port Vale FC at 6pm. Tickets are free and the speakers there have been asked to give investors up to the minute advice about financing and regulations after the election. So it’s the perfect opportunity to come along and get in the know.

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