A group of MPs leading an investigation into the private rented sector and the draft Tenant Fees Bill got more than they bargained for yesterday afternoon when David Smith (pictured, right), Policy Director at the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) came in to give evidence.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee had convened to hear from the RLA but also the National Landlords Association, a build-to-rent company called PlaceFirst, campaigning group Generation Rent and Citizen’s Advice about how best to police the private rental sector.
It’s other task was to find out what the wider world thinks of the proposed lettings fees ban
David Smith, during a sometimes tour-de-force performance, told the MPs – who included former housing minister Mark Prisk – his views in sometimes blunt language during a two-hour session.
His main points, some of which were echoed by the other people giving evidence, were:
- Fees charged by agents are charged at different levels and employed in varying ways all around the UK, so a blanket ban will be a blunt tool.
- It’s not true to say fees have been banned in Scotland – they’re now just post-loaded into tenancies, rather than being charged upfront, suggesting this will happen in the UK.
- There are tenancy costs/fees that will always have to be paid – so they will pop up somewhere else if you ban them.
- The policing of the private rental sector by councils is not working; nationally on average only half of all complaints by tenants to local authorities are ever followed up.
- Passing new laws like the Tenants’ Fees Bill will be pointless until government sorts out the patchy, messy nature of the existing rented housing sector’s 150 laws, some of which are 300 years old.
- Ministers already have the power to police the sector without the need for more legislation.
- Very few local authorities have the local political will or cash to tackle poorly-maintained privately rented housing.
- Licensing scheme needs to be governed nationally, not just locally – blanket licensing is just a “paperwork cottage industry” that duplicates bureaucracy.
- Ombudsman schemes don’t work effectively in the property sector – because they can only fine landlords and agents, not fix poorly maintained or privately rented homes.
The Select Committee will now consider all the evidence given before reporting on its findings. The Tenants’ Fees Bill is now not due to become law until next year.