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Comment: Ignore Tory landlord rebels. Landlords aren’t selling up and we shouldn’t worry if they did.

Tory landlords have hit the roof over landmark measures that promise to protect millions of renters from unfair eviction. 

ACORN members and others at the 'Renters Rally' at Parliament in March

The Renters' Reform Bill, published last week, promises to deliver the biggest package of protections for tenants since the deregulation of buy-to-let in 1989.

A group of unnamed Tory landlord MPs who are threatening to vote against the Bill claim it will force landlords out of the market and into a mass sell-off, deepening the nation's already hard-hitting housing crisis.

As someone who has spent the last decade helping tenants to organise and demand their rights, I have lost count of the number of times I have heard this false narrative. It is the stock line of activist landlords every time the idea of even the mildest regulation is floated. 

While this Bill represents a significant enhancement of tenants' rights, it is hardly a threat to the continued existence of landlords. Rather, it seeks to establish fundamental rights enjoyed by tenants in other economically advanced countries, such as secure tenancies and legally binding decent standards. 

At present, landlords have the authority to evict tenants without cause, providing just eight weeks' notice. By eliminating this practice, the legislation will help to cut the number of families forced into homelessness as a result of the evictions, which has reached a 20-year high.

One of the many dangerous rental homes ACORN has seen over the years

And if the Bill truly posed a threat to landlords, we would already have witnessed the beginnings of a mass exodus from the rental market. But since the measures were first pledged in 2019, the number of people renting from private landlords has reached its highest level in modern history. Buy-to-let mortgage lending has increased and we still have some of the highest rental yields in Europe. And while there has been a recent uptick in landlord sales, this is not due to landlords fearful of this regulation. Rather, it is the result of them going into retirement (with 75% of recent landlord sales coming from the over 60s) and capitalising on record property prices – and new landlords are replacing them.

But should we ever fear a mass sell-off? Can tenants' rights ever go too far?

The notion that we rely on landlords for shelter rests on the false assumption that they are housing providers. The actual work of constructing and supplying housing is done by builders, not landlords. Their presence in the market does not even stimulate development; in the 2010s when the number of landlords rocketed, house building figures hit a new low. 

As the housing crisis rages on – with rents rocketing and families facing unrelenting tenancy insecurity – the landlords' only goal has been profiteering. They have behaved like those who hoard grain during a famine, ready to exploit the hardship for their own financial gain.

The threat of a mass sell-off is taken from the same playbook as the employer threatening to move a factory offshore to avoid regulation. The difference is that landlords cannot offshore their houses. The only way of disposing of their assets is to sell them to someone else.

ACORN members resist an eviction in Bristol in 2018

But would this be a bad thing? A mass sale of privately rented homes would provide two opportunities.

First, it would increase the supply of housing for the 45% of current tenants looking to become home-buyers. And second, with the number of council houses available for rent falling by 29% since 2011, it would give the Government an opportunity to buy up homes, and let them out on a stable, affordable basis. Furthermore, not only would converting private rented stock into social housing benefit tenants, it would drastically reduce the housing benefit bill which currently equates to a yearly transfer of £23.4bn of public wealth to private landlords.

Parliament is packed to the rafters with landlords. One in five Tory MPs make money from letting property. When it comes to a vote on the Renters Reform Bill they should put their financial self-interest aside and remember it is tenants, not their landlords who are suffering the housing crisis. 

Voting against a ban on evictions will condemn millions to a continued life of housing insecurity. With housing likely to be a central issue at the next election, their voters, and the growing renters movement, will look to their record on the issue - and hold them accountable for it. 

Nick Ballard - ACORN Head Organiser

Published: 22nd May 2023