What does "Make Renting Right" actually look like?
Last week, John Swinney (Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy) added his voice to the Make Renting Right campaign.
Supporting a campaign by Shelter to back reforms of the private rented sector that will make it fairer and more caring of course sounds great, however the issues are complex and simply removing some tools from the landlord toolbox, which is essentially what Shelter propose, may well create other, equally undesirable problems.
The recent review of the private rented sector by the Scottish Government outlined a number of important objectives. Nobody is arguing that deep seated problems do not exist or that significant housing improvements are not needed, but if the Scottish Government want to create a progressive and vibrant private rented sector they will need to think beyond re-arranging the furniture and supporting a campaign designed (at least in part) to promote a negative view of landlord motives. The overall objectives (which I would support) unfortunately represent more of a wish list than creative, and almost certainly expensive, long term solutions. 1LET have put forward a number of practical suggestions which you can see in our recent response to the consultation here.
Also, in a move that completely fails to recognise or support the many businesses and individuals working hard to make the private rented sector better, the Scottish Government have just launched a new private rented sector property portal designed to operate as a free listing service run by local authorities who presumably think that they are uniquely well placed to provide such a service. Quite apart from the unlikely success of a property portal operated by a local authority, the new portal appears to have the benefit of access to the landlord registration database. Given that many private companies also operate in this space this would appear to give something of an unfair advantage to the public sector. Worse still, the portal enables "Localpad", the private company providing the technology that runs the portal to promote their products and services to landlords and tenants who use the site. Hence local authorites (with Scottish Government backing) have effectively formed a competing property portal by using legislative powers, tax-payer funding and by selling public records.
Here however is where I draw some comfort. Whilst the portal may be popular with some private landlords looking for free advertising, it will be largely unpopular with local businesses and property agents (as a general rule the business community does not appreciate the public sector operating in its space any more than the public sector appreciates business operating in theirs). So with this in mind, can a property portal populated by individual landlord listings compete with other highly popular local and national portals pupulated by (daily) automatic property feeds from agents and businesses? What are prospective tenants likely to be more interested in, high volume portals that focus on location, condition and price, or low volume portals that focus on regulation? I will let you decide.
If the challenge is to create a more caring and supportive private rented sector, which is something that we all want to see, the Scottish Government and local authorities may need to smile rather more at the current private rented sector and work with landlords and agents to come up with creative and helpful long term solutions that will actually work.
MD - 1LET
Picture courtesy of Electronic Payments Coalition