Indeed, if you put it into a longer historical perspective it is quite remarkable. In the 1970s, in the face of seemingly inexorable growth of owner occupation and local authority renting, housing commentators seriously forecast the imminent demise of the private landlord. The decline of private landlordism went into reverse under the later Thatcher government, but its revival has been propelled more rapidly since the early 2000s by the engines of Buy-to-Let funding, affordability problems in owner occupation, wage stagnation, high household debt, and poor economic prospects.
The change in the scale of the sector has been accompanied by an equally important rehabilitation of its reputation. The 1960s brought us the word Rachmanism to signify exploitative and intimidatory landlordism. In the 1970s those on the political left contemplated the prospect of the extinction of the private landlord with enthusiasm: the landlord was an anachronism of the Victorian age – profiting from basic needs and misfortunes – that had no place in a modern civilised society. Yet from the 1980s onward there has been a continuous flow of policy statements aimed at rehabilitating and legitimising private landlordism.
The current government has sought to stimulate the sector through a range of funding mechanisms. It has sought not only to increase the scale of the sector but also raise its reputation further by encouraging institutional investors to enter the market. Institutions with valuable brands to protect are not, in theory, going to risk engaging in the sort of poor landlord practices – neglect of physical maintenance, harassment, unlawful eviction – that have been seen as endemic in the sector.
It may look like private renting is therefore very much back in business. But there are problems ahead. [Read more…]