9:54 AM, 7th August 2017, About 5 years ago 32
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.
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:
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.