Britain’s biggest landlords cash in their portfolio - and evict 100s of families
Fergus and Judith Wilson own over 700 properties. They are among Britain’s biggest private landlords, owning entire streets in some parts of Kent. Ever since their decision, in 2014, to evict all tenants on housing benefits - even those who had never been in arrears on their rent - their names have been synonymous with controversy.
Now, the Wilsons have decided to cash in on their estimated £250m property portfolio, to settle down and “take life easy”. They reckon that it’s easier and more profitable for landlords to sell properties without tenants in-situ. So the Wilson’s have started the process of evicting their tenants in preparation for the sale.
Almost all the couples’ properties are two or three bedroom new builds, and many are home to young families. By law, the Wilsons only have to give the tenants two months’ notice of eviction. Some might manage to find new homes in this time. But many landlords are notoriously unwilling to offer tenancies to families on low incomes, meaning the most vulnerable will struggle. The chances of so many people finding suitable new homes are slim. Still less, homes nearby their employers, schools and support networks. Many must fear homelessness, and could be forced to turn to an already stretched council for support.
Three wins on ending discrimination
There’s been some good news this month for people facing discrimination in the private rental market – because of how they pay their rent, or because of who they are.
Buy-to-let mortgage conditions
First, Natwest announced that it would lift “all restrictions on landlords renting to tenants who are in receipt of housing benefits”.
The English Private Landlord Survey 2018
Happy tenants. Happy landlords. Longer tenancies and no unfair evictions. It’s all possible!
The 2018 English Private Landlords Survey (EPLS) – the first since 2010 – demonstrates that much-needed changes to the private rented sector, specifically to renter security, would have little or no effects on most landlords. The current system of rules reflects the interests and opinions of a small minority of landlords at the great expense of tenants who deserve better.
The EPLS surveyed 8000 landlords and letting agents and its findings were published last month. The questionnaire covered three main topics: landlord characteristics; their attitudes and behaviours; and, importantly, the future of the private rented sector.
What are some of the key findings and what do they mean for renter security?
Parliament abolishes £410m-a-year scam
The House of Commons has read letting agent fees their last rites! This afternoon MPs voted to approve the final version of the Tenant Fees Bill signed off last week by the House of Lords.
From 1 June, private renters moving home will no longer have to pay fees to start a new tenancy in England. Agents will only be able to ask for rent, and refundable holding and security deposits (capped at 1 week’s rent and 5 weeks’ rent respectively). The only exemptions are fees to cover the cost of lost keys, late rent payments, changing the name on a tenancy or ending a tenancy early.
Letting Agents are not the "servants of two masters"
Parliament’s scrutiny of the Tenant Fees Bill has exposed the common misconception that a letting agent works for both the landlord and the tenant. A letting agent is not, as David Cox, CEO of ARLA Propertymark had put it, “effectively the servant of two masters.” Letting agents typically act for only one side (usually, the landlord).
An agent’s role is to serve the interests of the person who appoints them. It is simply not possible to act loyally for two parties whose interests are at odds (e.g. when one side would rather receive higher rent and the other would rather pay less). To suggest otherwise is to contradict English statute and common law, the Property Ombudsman’s guidance, the forthcoming Tenant Fees Bill and even the Bible.
2018 takes renters closer to a fairer housing market
It's our End Of Year round-up! 2018 has been an exciting year for the campaign. Through our work - with activists, renter unions and other groups - we are closer to a safer, fairer and more secure private rental market.
MPs debated Section 21 - here's what they had to say
On Thursday 6th December our campaign to end unfair evictions reached the Houses of Parliament.
Labour MP Karen Buck, in partnership with the End Unfair Evictions campaign, sponsored a Westminster Hall parliamentary debate on the problems pertaining to Section 28 evictions. MPs came together to share horror stories from their constituents of evictions as well as discuss the larger power imbalances born of the constant threat of eviction many tenants live with.
Section 21: Terrible for tenants and lengthy for landlords in court
Our campaign to end unfair evictions has caught the attention of Parliament. On Thursday, MPs are debating “the use of Section 21 evictions in the private rented sector”.
We’re calling for the abolition of Section 21, and the government is considering responses to its proposed three-year tenancies. This is the first opportunity MPs will have to air their views on reform, and quiz the Housing Minister, Heather Wheeler, on her department’s proposals. We’ll get a sense of what there is cross-party support for.
Ahead of the debate, we wanted to take a look at what we know about evictions and their extent. It's important to note that the problems with Section 21 go far beyond the basic number of evictions. The threat of a no-fault eviction discourages tenants from treating the property as their long term home, and even from complaining about disrepair.
Pressure builds on Natwest over benefit discrimination
Back in October, we learned that Natwest had asked one of its buy-to-let customers to either evict her tenant, who was receiving housing benefit, or pay a draconian fee to switch her mortgage.
The bank’s terms and conditions prohibited customers from letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. Yet another example of a bank discriminating against low-income households and fuelling the “No DSS” culture. But this time, 62% of the bank is owned by the government, i.e. us.
The landlord has started a petition urging the government to stop this practice by high street banks, and it’s nearly at 5000 signatures.
Life after Section 21
Today is the 30th anniversary of the Housing Act 1988 receiving Royal Assent and becoming law. The Act introduced the assured shorthold tenancy, and, with it, Section 21, the ability for landlords to evict without needing a reason.
As part of the End Unfair Evictions campaign we are calling for Section 21 to be scrapped, and demanded this in our response to the government’s recent consultation on longer tenancies. In our response we also set out how the private rental market should work once Section 21 is history.
Lords send ministers away to fix fees ban
The letting fees ban has inched closer to being law. Yesterday a Grand Committee of the House of Lords went through most of the Tenant Fees Bill, line by line. There are still potential loopholes that could leave tenants vulnerable to exploitation.
Following lobbying by ourselves, Shelter and Citizens Advice, and amendments by peers including Baroness Grender and Lord Kennedy, the government has now agreed to examine them before the Report Stage.
Hammond Housing Horror
Despite repeated cries by the Chancellor that “your hard work has paid off”, the Autumn Budget was underwhelming in its efforts to address the housing crisis. In brief, nothing new for renters, a mixed bag for landlords, and support for first-time buyers moving into shared ownership. Several extra pots of cash for housebuilding but well short of what’s needed and nothing radical in terms of reforming the land market to funnel the proceeds of development to local communities and build more council homes.