OPINION: The shortage of rental properties - Simon Smith

North Devon Gazette

We began last week's column with a list of high street leviathans and financial PLC’s and asked which of those you felt would make the best landlord?Â

We then went on to discuss the housing situation in the south west, especially in the rental sector, which has been described in the media and in Whitehall as a crisis.Â

This week, we’ll examine the link between these two seemingly disparate topics.Â

That there is a shortage of rental property at the moment is an undeniable truth, with letting agents reporting dozens – literally many dozens – of applications for each property advertised.Â

This has been widely blamed on the pandemic and the influx of hordes of city dwellers wishing to escape the urban petri dishes where new variants ferment and relocate to the fresh clean air of the west country, although with both Torridge District and North Devon District topping not just the regional league tables but the national league tables for covid case numbers too, it’s not inconceivable that some of these urban escapees will soon be asking for their money back , and how long before news channels across the world are reporting the rise of the Ilfracombe variant?Â

You’d be a brave person to bet against it. I can already foresee a reporter on an American news channel referring to ‘Ilf-ra-kom-bee’ and masked reporters from across the globe asking bemused townsfolk along the High Street how it feels to be the new epicentre of global concern.Â

However, I digress. As with many of the challenges of life today, although the pandemic may have been the tipping point, the straw that broke the camel's back in certain areas, it’s far from solely responsible for the shortage of homes to rent.Â

There has been a belief amongst rental professionals (be they agents or landlords) for some years now that it has been an undeclared strategy of government to destroy the private rental sector.Â

Like all forms of conspiracy theory, various reasons are put forward including pressure on government from pension funds (who, lest we forget, are gargantuan, multi trillion pound businesses) who have seen a steady decline in new pension clients as private individuals were increasingly turning to the idea of owning one or two buy to let properties to provide them with a pension through to the idea that, at some indeterminate point in the not too distant future the electorate will consist of more tenants than homeowners and wanting to be seen as a ‘tenants champion’ will be a vote winner.Â

What is unarguable is that a set of policies have been imposed over the last decade to create a hostile environment for private landlords, and whatever the original motivation behind this move, the plan is clear – to remove as many private landlords as possible and to replace them with the corporatization of the rental sector.

Already, Lloyds Banking Group has announced a plan to acquire 500 properties to rent out, both Boots and Waitrose have announced that they are looking into redeveloping both redundant city centre stores and distribution hubs into rental housing and some of the world's biggest pension funds are financing Build To Rent schemes, and the reason this is linked to the current rental shortage is that the plan to make being a private landlord so unattractive that many sell up has been successful half a decade or so before the huge volumes of corporate provided rental blocks become available, hence the huge disparity we are seeing between supply and demand at present.Â

Of course, this could all just be the deranged imaginings of a coven of disgruntled letting professionals and it could just be market forces that have brought about these changes in who will provide property to rent in the future, but if in 10 years' time you are renting a property and reporting a leak entails ringing through to a help line based on another continent and with somewhere around a thousand menu options to wade through before reaching ‘report an issue with your dwelling box’ remember, you read it here first.Â