It is hard not to be cynical about politicians when a general election is approaching, writes property expert and Homes columnist Luke Gidney.
“They make claims and promises that are designed specifically to attract the attention and votes of certain groups in society. Now, it would appear, tenants are one of those groups being wooed by the men in suits.
“Ed Miliband has promised to introduce three-year tenancies with rent rises tied to inflation. This is despite well-informed research that shows that rent rises in the private sector have been well below inflation since 2008 – unlike social sector rents which have risen above the rate of inflation. And last year saw 75 per cent of private landlords freezing or even reducing rents
“When looked at carefully, vote-grabbing pledges do not merely lack substance, they could even damage the housing sector.
“Research has shown that three in five landlords would leave, or consider leaving, the private rented market if rent controls were introduced. As the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said not too long ago, ‘politicians play with the private rented sector at their peril.’
“Mr Miliband’s vison of three-year tenancies, rental caps, and the banning of “rip-off” letting agent fees, is designed to win votes by putting forward the image of badly treated tenants and greedy landlords.
“It is fair to assume that if Labour’s stance appears to be gaining them some precious votes then the Tories, Lib Dems and maybe UKIP will put together a similar sounding argument in a bid to gain a slice of tenants’ support. But this can hardly be a way to address the private rented sector.
“The Residential Landlords Association has warned about the dangers of rent controls driving investors out of the private rented sector. Less properties will mean fewer homes to rent, which will surely send rents higher. As for three-year tenancies, all research shows over a third of tenants stay in a property for less than a year.
“There is also the question of how issues such as rent controls can be properly enforced. Labour’s plan of action, if put into practice, would lower the private rented housing stock, increase rents and restrict the flexibility of tenancies. Tenants, I believe, would do well to consider this carefully.
“Similarly, pledges from a number of the parties to boost the housing stock always seem to be dusted off at election time. House building in recent years has been at its lowest for 80 years, so quite how any government is going to wave a magical wand to rectify this remains to be seen. It sounds good. In the same way that three-year tenancies and removing rip off fees and creating rent controls all sound good. Until you start looking at the details and the practicalities. When we do that it becomes clear that those who want tenants’ votes are doing little more than going through the motions.”