Malcolm Cannon: Don’t harm rental sector

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It is a popular myth that all landlords are unsympathetic and money-grabbing; and that tenants are a browbeaten community living in less than homely properties. But that is just what it is – “a myth”.

While I am not about to use this column to excuse bad landlords or deny that some tenants find themselves in unacceptable situations I am going to try and redress the balance. In Edinburgh, the reality is that the vast majority of landlords are ordinary working professionals or retirees, who have chosen to invest savings in property. The Braemore Index shows 92 per cent fall into this category, while only one per cent refer to themselves as full-time property developers.

For many of these individuals, putting their money into bricks and mortar was the only option after the failure of the banks and during an era of low interest rates. For them too, their properties are an investment that needs looking after for the long term. These are not bad people.

The facts, highlighted in a number of independent surveys, also show that tenants are largely content. The Lettingweb report found that 86 per cent of tenants in Scotland surveyed have never received a request for a rent increase during their lease and 90 per cent never experienced a rent rise that was deemed unreasonable.

Despite this, the Scottish Government is moving down an anti-landlord path. The government’s latest proposals call for the removal of the “no fault” clause which does away with the landlord’s right to terminate a tenancy at the end of the agreed lease period, even after sufficient notice is given.

They also want to see area-based rent controls, which most property experts believe will be hugely damaging for the sector, curtailing investment in the housing stock as well as in new development. For most Edinburgh landlords a fall in income could affect their own mortgage repayments and any intended repairs or upgrades to their property.

Today’s working environment demands mobility. Renting offers people flexibility. Families often want to be near their chosen schools. Renting offers that choice. Many individuals want a city centre lifestyle in an aspirational home. Renting provides that option. And for the many who can’t afford to buy, renting is essential. To raise standards, the sector has been working closely with the government and other agencies to introduce more robust redress when things go wrong. We have also argued for better landlord and lettings agency registration along with powers to penalise bad practice. These have to be encouraged.

Yet so far, swayed by the myths, the Government persists with its sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Malcolm Cannon is the chief executive of Braemore and a director for the Property Ombudsman Scotland