Friday 5 February 2016 10:45 am

UK rental prices: Why landlords aren't to blame for the housing crisis

Landlords aren't exactly flavour of the month right now.

For many critics of the UK private rental market, it's landlords who seem to be presiding over a broken and unjust system, fleecing tenants out of their hard-earned cash while keeping property prices at the insanely high levels that price them out of home ownership.

It’s not only tenants who are pointing the finger at landlords. George Osborne himself, apparently concerned by growth in the buy-to-let market, has proposed new limits on the amount investors can borrow as a proportion of the property price, as well as increasing the ratio of expected rental income to mortgage interest payments.

Additionally, from 2017, tax relief for buy to let will gradually be cut to a flat rate of 20 per cent, a huge drop compared with the 40 per cent or 45 per cent currently enjoyed by some landlords.

It looks like this crackdown may be having an impact. According to a survey by The National Landlords Association this week, landlords, fearful of the proposed changes, are planning to sell their properties in such numbers that there could be a dramatic sell-off of 500,000 properties in the next 12 months, followed by another 100,000 sold each year until 2021.

No doubt a glut of homes coming onto the market will push down property prices, which has to be a good thing for generation rent, right? I’m not convinced.

Read more: The government must do more to combat rogue landlords

Before aspiring homeowners rejoice, with the average cost of a UK property over 10 times the average wage, prices would need to fall so far, so fast, it seems unlikely that this is going to seriously help. Moreover, there’s no guarantee that disgruntled landlords will be selling off the kind of homes that will meet the needs of a first-time buyer.

A far more likely scenario is that renters will still find themselves unable to buy and will be trying to rent from a dwindling pool of available rental properties. Life is hard enough for tenants right now, they need this like a hole in the head.

In all this I cannot help but feel that when we talk about our renting woes, we’ve picked the wrong enemy. It’s easy to hold landlords responsible for all our ills when they're the recipients of our rent payments, but it feels like one almighty stretch to suggest that they must shoulder the blame for locking tenants out of ownership or making exorbitant profits at our expense. It’s far more complex than that.

We are also dealing with a private rental system that fails to take into account the huge variation in quality among landlords. How about we seriously tackle the scourge of rogue landlords rather than hounding decent ones out of the market?

I’m not suggesting that landlords are special snowflakes who cannot take criticism and need the likes of me to defend them. My issue with landlord-bashing is I think it detracts from the real and pressing reasons why renting is so insecure in this country.

Increasing numbers of us are now forced to rent in a system that seems to actively militate against our best interests. Landlords often seem to personify the worst issues with the private rental sector but the inconvenient truth is we need landlords. We need them to be responsible, we need them to be accountable and we need them to be better regulated but right now we need them more than ever.