Guardian’s current onslaught against private landlords

by Dr Rosalind Beck

A week ago

Guardian’s current onslaught against private landlords

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Guardian’s current onslaught against private landlords

It’s getting very hard to keep up with the Guardian’s current onslaught against private landlords; it’s also supremely ironic that they should be engaging in this one-sided tirade whilst simultaneously stating that the paper provides: ‘quality, independent journalism, which discovers and tells readers the truth.’

I would beg to differ.

Just in the last few weeks we have had article after article attacking private landlords and presenting inaccurate, biased and illogical arguments in order to do so.

The first in a recent spate of articles was written by the Policy Editor, Michael Savage; it contained a highly selective interpretation of a recent report commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which in itself was significantly flawed.

100 tenants a day lose homes as rising rents and benefit freeze hit

The mistakes in the article by Savage were multiple; for example, he referred to ‘the spiralling cost of renting a property’ (when, in fact, rents have increased over recent years largely in line with inflation and earnings); to ‘no-fault evictions’ (there is no such thing. He was referring to Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 which allows landlords to apply to court for possession without giving a reason; this does not mean no-one is at fault); he stated that Section 21 gives tenants two months to leave, but for the sake of accuracy, he should have said in practice if the tenant decides to sit tight (as local authorities, the Citizens Advice Bureau and ‘homelessness’ charities often advise), it takes a minimum of 5 months during which many tenants enjoy a rent-free stay, while the landlord has to still pay the mortgage and running costs.

Finally he presented an uncorroborated case study of a tenant who allegedly had to move many times over recent years. This is not ‘evidence.’ When case studies like this are offered there should be corroboration by the landlord. How do we know this person wasn’t a nightmare tenant and/or serial defaulter on the rent? It seems very suspicious to me that so many landlords should have allegedly served her with a notice to quit, as changes of tenancy are very expensive to landlords who prefer decent tenants to stay put for many years (the average tenancy length in the private rented sector is 4.3 years, meaning many tenants stay a lot longer).

As if it wasn’t already enough to read his partial analysis of the deeply flawed JRF report – there is a critique of it here:

Who hijacked the JRF project “Poverty, evictions and forced moves”?

Dan Wilson Craw of the vehemently anti-private landlord organisation, Generation Rent, was given the opportunity by the Guardian to piggy back on to the previous article. The Guardian thereby allowed him to ramp things up even more with inflammatory language about landlords ‘turfing people out of their homes without reason.’

Landlords are turfing people out of their homes without reason – and it’s completely legal

Wilson Craw stated that the primary cause of homelessness is the ending of a private tenancy. The ending of a private tenancy, however, is a process and not a cause. Private tenancies end for all manner of reasons, notably for non-payment of rent and other breaches of tenancy or the landlord wishing to sell (especially now because punitive tax rates and persistent attacks on the sector are creating an intolerable and unviable atmosphere in which to run a business).

If an employer sacks an employee for stealing, it is tautological nonsense to say ‘losing the job caused the employee’s joblessness’. These self-appointed ‘experts’ must stop repeating this inane comment.

The other logic that they seem oblivious to is that evictions are only possible because the private landlords have provided the housing in the first place – and as private landlords now provide slightly more housing than the social sector (because of the  Government sell-off of social housing), then so the rate of evictions from the former has risen, proportionately.

Conversely, organisations like Shelter and Generation rent do not evict anyone, because they don’t house anyone (additionally, when landlords evict someone, they then house someone else, so they still provide the same amount of housing; they are not engaged in ‘buy to leave’ and leaving properties empty; but rather maximising the use of housing as is needed in a housing crisis).

Wilson Craw also used the JRF report for his organisation’s political ends of aiming to get Section 21 notices scrapped (even though the JRF recommended firstly observing the Scottish experiment with this before considering following suit).

He then stated: ‘Landlords should be legally accountable for ending a contract early.’ This is completely inaccurate as landlords cannot end contracts early and if they did try they would be legally accountable.

He then squeezed in a call for rent controls (which have in fact a highly destructive impact in practice). He presented no case for how they would be a solution to anything; as Kristian Niemitz of the Institute of Economic Affairs has pointed out, when rent controls are proposed, it is always deemed self-explanatory that they provide a solution. Well, capping the price of bread in Venezuela under Maduro hasn’t worked; shop owners simply stopped selling it, rather than operate at a loss.

Similarly, if landlords have their ability to charge a market rent denied and, under the new tax regime whereby they cannot offset finance costs, operate at a loss also, then many will simply withdraw from the market and exacerbate the housing shortage in the rented sector.

In response to these articles, I proceeded to write to several journalists and section editors at the Guardian, including Michael Savage, as the Policy Editor. I attached an article I had drafted which would have provided some balance had the Guardian printed it.

Michael Savage suggested however that I send it in as letter (yes, a summary of my article in letter format would help balance all the inaccuracies and bias of the two prominent articles which had been published by this stage).

Instead, yet another article appeared, this time from a freelance journalist, Abi  Wilkinson, declaring that the housing market is ‘corrupted’ (whatever that means) and that the profit motive must be removed from it.

Britain’s corrupted housing market needs more than a lick of paint

It’s not clear how this would be done. Perhaps Ms Wilkinson thinks one can instantly magic up millions of new properties for the social sector (where there is presumably no ‘profit motive’ apart from needing to get the rent collected so that the properties will be maintained, the finance costs on the loans to build the properties will be paid and the staff will receive their remuneration, so actually that is the same kind of profit motive that exists in the private sector).

Ms Wilkinson may also think private landlords will run their businesses for nothing (‘at cost’).  For those of us who provide housing to many people and do this as a full-time occupation, I assume we will then live on fresh air whilst also going out each day dealing with our tenants’ issues.

I assume she would then like other business people to run their services and provide their goods at cost.  In this new utopia, I assume she won’t mind also working on her ill-informed articles, getting them published and also not being paid for her work.

Following this piece, the Guardian then published a case study of one woman (who is using the article to flog her new book as a novelist) who, according to the headline, made ‘a profit of £190,000 almost entirely due to house price rises’ on one flat in Oxford.

Goodbye to buy-to-let: why I’m moving on after 13 years as a landlady

In fact, the figures presented in the article were completely inaccurate as was the headline. Ms Lafaye bought the property for £155,000 and sold it for approximately £270,000. That is an initial profit of £115,000, but deducting costs and capital gains tax leaves a profit of £94,000, not including the cost of any capital improvements done during the 13 years of ownership.  So her profit is less than half of what is declared in the article.

I believe the exaggeration/false reporting feeds into the narrative of landlords making a killing out of house price increases, when in recent years gains like this have been very localised in areas like the south-east, London and towns like Oxford. Also, as landlords pay capital gains tax and owner occupiers don’t, the latter make far more from any increase in value and yet the Guardian isn’t talking about them cashing in on house prices and it isn’t calling for owner-occupiers to pay tax on their vast ‘unearned’ profit as landlords have to.

I would suggest that publishing a case study of one landlord compounds the distorted representation of the private rented sector. If the Guardian wants to be seen as independent, it would have been more appropriate to have three case studies; one with a landlord who had done well (but with accurate figures), one with a landlord who had broken even and one with a landlord who had lost out from their investment (there are plenty of landlords in this category).

Being a landlord does not give you a golden ticket to success; if it did everyone would do it. In fact most people are far too frightened to take the risks associated with this line of work and also do all the dirty work that can come with it (over the years I’ve had to clean dog poo off carpets, clean away broken, bloody glass after a self-harm incident, hold a tenant’s bloody head while waiting for the ambulance and so on. In fact, it was only afterwards that I realised I could have been infected with HIV).

Moving on, as I write this, we now have yet another article from the Guardian.

Outrage at eviction company advert calling tenants ‘household pests’

And in this, once more, the Guardian is serving as a mouthpiece for Generation Rent and Shelter. Although the article is about an eviction company referring to tenants as ‘household pests,’  the Guardian quotes Seb Klier, campaigns manager at Generation Rent, saying that ‘comparing tenants to vermin provided a shocking insight into the way renters are viewed by some landlords and agents.’

But landlords and agents had nothing to do with the advert. It was from a company based in one area of the UK. This company’s insensitive publicity campaign also did not merit a whole article, in which once more gross generalisations could be made about  ‘colossal rents, being forced to live in flats crawling with mice or rats, and having the threat of eviction hanging over them…’.

The Guardian is wittingly or unwittingly allowing itself to be used to push the propaganda of anti-private landlords groups with these inaccurate, illogical, biased and distorted ‘analyses.’ It is shoddy work and I call upon the Guardian to now publish a set of counterbalancing articles to put this right.


".................... when landlords evict someone, they then house someone else, so they still provide the same amount of housing; they are not engaged in ‘buy to leave’ and leaving properties empty; but rather maximising the use of housing as is needed in a housing crisis".
This is something that Shelter, JRF, Crisis, Generation Rent overlook (or more likely choose to ignore as it doesn't fit their narrative). These organisations bang on about the Tenants costs to having to move properties but it also costs Landlords as well, the point being a Landlord will not evict unnecessarily as it will cost them a substantial amount of money to do so.

Perhaps they should go and look at Phil Spencers Find me a home program the other week where there was clear evidence of a family with a young child living in council housing that had severe rat/cockroach infestation. The council were aware of the problem and apparently could do nothing about it but still charged market rent for the place.....

The Guardian is not a member of IPSO so I have sent the following complaint to the paper‘s internal ombudsman.

You have to give the following information:
The article you’re complaining about.
The date on which it appeared.
Whether the article appeared in print or online (and whether through a browser or via one of our mobile apps).
The nature of your complaint in no more than 500 words.
Which part of the Editorial Code it breaches.
The readers’ editor is also on Twitter @GdnReadersEd.

Because my complaint has 492 words I put the link to the offending article in the subject line plus that the fact that I read it online through a browser.

Please feel free to copy and paste and send a complaint.

The first paragraph in Michael Savage’s article was
“A record number of renters are being evicted from their homes, with more than 100 tenants a day losing the roof over their head, according to a shocking analysis of the nation’s housing crisis. The spiralling costs of renting a property and a long-running freeze to housing benefit are being blamed for the rising number of evictions among Britain’s growing army of tenants.”
In the next paragraph he reveals that the “shocking analysis” is the JRF report.

Michael Savage made a false claim. The JRF report barely mentions rents, and certainly does not use the phrase “spiralling rents”. All it says, under the heading “Rising rents” on page 20, is:

“Rents have risen faster in London than other parts of Britain, especially in the last year. The annual increase in rents in London now stands at 4.1 per cent. This is not a huge annual increase, but if landlords do not inflate rents for existing tenants annually, it is possible for the rent to become substantially below market rents in just a few years, causing the potential for an unaffordable rent ‘hike’.”

The report makes clear that it is cuts to benefits that are triggering evictions.

JRF’s YouTube video mentions London rents rising by 4%. But the Findings summary, the download page and the press release do not mention rising rents.

This politically motivated distortion breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy The Guardian should remove the words “The spiralling costs of renting a property and” from the article and publish the correction..

Furthermore, the rest of his article distorted the message of the report. He used the press release’s statistic about more than four-fifths of the increase in evictions being through “no-fault” S 21 before mentioning that Housing Benefit no longer covered the rent. But he did not connect the two things.

He wrote “High numbers of “no-fault” evictions by private landlords is driving the increase. More than 80% of the extra evictions had occurred under a Section 21 notice, which gives a tenant two months to leave. The landlord does not have to give a reason and there does not need to be any wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.”

But even after writing “The study found that changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to claimants in many areas.” he did not mention that that was the reason for the evictions. It was as if he was writing about two different groups of people - no-fault tenants who were being evicted for no reason, and people on benefits who were “struggling to meet their bills”.

This politically motivated distortion also breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy. .

I have also sent a complaint about Vanessa Lafaye’s article:

Again, please feel free to copy and paste and send a complaint:

The sub-headline states that Vanessa Lafaye made a profit of £190k. If true, this would have been a profit of 123%.

However, the profit calculation is nonsense. The stated £210k “Gross profit” is the sale price minus the mortgage - instead of the purchase price!

These guest articles are supposed to be read by a sub-editor, an editor and a lawyer. Do none of these people at the Guardian know the difference between a loan and a cost?

The difference between the purchase price and the selling price is £115k. Deducting £21k for the costs of sale and CGT leaves £94k which is less than half the figure in the sub-headline, even without deducting the stamp duty and legal fees on purchase - which are not stated in the article.

The sub-headline and the profit calculation breach point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy The Guardian should correct both in the article and publish the corrections.

Vanessa Lafaye has moved 40 miles to Wiltshire and can no longer drive. She has sold her only rental property. The headline could have been “Lucky woman did well from local boom in property prices”. How does that warrant an article in a national newspaper?

The reason she wrote the article would appear to be advertising her novels. But this does not seem to be against your editorial code.

Reply to the comment left by Appalled Landlord at 07/08/2017 - 13:19Bravo, AL. Let's see what happens now to your complaints.

I have also complained about Dan Wilson Craw's article. There was so much wrong with it that I had to break my complaint down into three sections of fewer than 500 words. Please feel free to copy, paste and complain.
Part 1:
“Landlords are turfing people out of their homes without reason - and it's completely legal”
“Turfing people out” suggests they were manhandled, which is illegal. Nobody evicts tenants without a reason. That phrase shows a lack of common sense. The last part suggests that its legality is surprising or that it a loophole is being exploited

The headline breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy. It should be changed to “Landlords can evict tenants without having to state the reason” and the correction should be published.

The article starts with “For every school in England there are five children without a home. The Local Government Association reports that 120,000 children are living in temporary accommodation. The primary cause of this homelessness is the end of a private sector tenancy, ie eviction.
Unfortunately, there is no official explanation for this, because private landlords don’t need to give a reason when they ask tenants to leave. In a study released on Sunday, Joseph Rowntree Foundation attributes 80% of the recent rise in evictions to this “no fault” process.”

The second sentence is muddle-headed. It is like saying that someone’s unemployment was caused by his dismissal. Eviction is not the cause of homelessness, it is merely the process through which it occurs. The cause of homelessness is whatever triggered the eviction.
This sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

The second paragraph is shameless. He is implying that because there is no “official” explanation, the reason is unknown. Yet the reason for the increase in evictions is in the very report he quotes, in the summary report, and in the press release: Changes in welfare benefits have combined to make rents unaffordable to benefit claimants in many areas.
“Unfortunately, there is no official explanation for this, because” should be deleted from the first sentence as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy.

In the second sentence he is implying, by his use of the term “no fault”, that 80% of the recent rise in evictions affected tenants who had not defaulted. There is no evidence for this and the JRF report makes it clear that some tenants had been evicted because of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.

The use of the term “no fault” breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy. It should be replaced by the correct name, Section 21, and the correction should be published.

Part 2:
“Section 21 was designed to encourage investors and their mortgage lenders to enter the private rented sector and provide a flexible supply of housing. But it worked too well, attracting amateurs gambling on rising prices, with no interest in providing long-term homes.”

All landlords start without experience and so are, by definition, amateurs. But that does not mean that they have no interest in providing long-term homes. On the contrary, they expect to keep their properties for decades. They like nothing better than to have long-term tenants as long as they pay the rent and treat the property and the neighbours.with respect.
The second sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

“The right to evict gives landlords enormous power over their tenants.”
No it doesn’t. It does not give them power to force tenants to do anything against their will. The only power it gives landlords is the right to recover vacant possession of their properties - and they do not do so without good reason.
This sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

“While building more homes for long-term rent is important,
we need a quicker solution. Ending section 21 could just be it.”
This would not be a solution, it would exacerbate the problem. Ending S 21 could just be the last straw that drives landlords out of the market. It would remove their right to deal with their properties as they wished. Allowing themselves to be stuck with a sitting tenant would reduce the value of their property, just as it did in most of the last century. So landlords are more likely to evict their tenants before this right was removed, and sell with vacant possession, or simply leave them empty.
It is not a quick solution, it is a recipe for disaster. The second sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

“Landlord groups claim their members only evict delinquent tenants and only use section 21 to do that because it’s quicker than section 8. The English Housing Survey begs to differ, finding that 63% of evictions happen when a landlord plans to sell or otherwise use the property.”
The first part of the first sentence is patently untrue and should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published. No landlord group has ever denied that evictions occur due to the owner moving in or selling. On the contrary, for two years now they have been telling all and sundry that Osborne’s tax attacks are forcing landlords to sell with vacant possession.

Part 3:
"The majority of landlords, who are interested in keeping reliable tenants have no need for section 21.”

They do need it for when their tenants become unreliable and stop paying the rent or become anti-social. He clearly does not understand why S 21 is used.
This sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

“Landlords should be legally accountable for ending a contract early. Enforcing a penalty for this type of behaviour, which could be paid to tenants, at a high enough rate that it could pay for setting up a new tenancy, would discourage blameless evictions.”
It is misleading to suggest that S 21 can end a contract early. S 21 cannot take effect before the end of the fixed period of a tenancy. .

This paragraph should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

“Reforming this damaging law is Generation Rent’s top priority. With a quarter of families now living in private rented housing, paying rent should, at the very least, give tenants security.”

Section 21 is not a damaging law. Weakening it would reduce the supply of rental accommodation and make homelessness worse. It would drive landlords out of the market and deter others from entering it, so that the stock of rental accommodation, already in short supply in some areas, would fall further while the population continues to increase. This would make rents rise even more, to the detriment of the tenants the writer claims to represent. It would also cause an increase in evictions as landlords leave. What is damaging is the call for it to be reformed.
The first sentence breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy. It should read “Reforming this law, Generation Rent’s top priority, would be damaging to the supply and price of rental accommodation.” and the correction should be published.

Paying rent already gives tenants security - for the period for which they have paid. Meeting their contractual obligation in this way does not mean that they should be allowed to stay for life even against the owner’s wishes. It is misleading to suggest that tenants can be removed before the end of the period for which they have paid rent.
The last sentence should be deleted as it breaches point 1 of the Editorial code: Accuracy, and the correction should be published.

Reply to the comment left by Appalled Landlord at 07/08/2017 - 22:24Brilliant work AL.

Reply to the comment left by Dr Rosalind Beck at 07/08/2017 - 22:27Thanks Ros. Now we know how, we should all make a complaint as soon as we see anything inaccurate in the Guardian or the Observer. It might help to make the writers and editors ensure that what is written is accurate and not just any old prejudiced tat.

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