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Private Sector Housing Manager gives view on PRS

Posted on 2016-02-16

Our landlord survey and tenant survey have given us a great insight into what landlords and tenants really think about the private rented sector (PRS). However, what do those who work in local government think? To find out, we spoke to Mike Brook, Leeds City Council Service Manager, Private Sector Housing, who was keen to give us his thoughts.

1) Hi Mike. What’s your job at Leeds City Council, and what exactly does it entail?

My official title is Service Manager, Private Sector Housing.

I have direct responsibility for a service that covers the Housing Regulation Activities across the PRS in Leeds. This includes a reactive complaint service, Mandatory House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) Licensing, landlord accreditation and any discretionary licensing scheme we may choose to implement

As well as managing the service, I have responsibility for devising strategies, implementing new legislation and contributing to local, regional and national forums.

2) How long have you worked for Leeds City Council in the PRS and how has the PRS changed during your time working in it? What are the biggest differences you’ve seen, both locally and on a national level?

I’ve worked for Leeds City Council since 1983 and moved into the Environmental Health Department in 1990.

It was here I followed a degree course pathway to qualify as an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) and this led me into a primarily housing field. I became much more involved in Housing from 2005 when I took a Deputy Manager Role at our Aireborough Office and then moved to my current role in 2010 following a departmental re-structure.

The PRS has grown significantly in recent years, both nationally and particularly in Leeds. The sector has also evolved into a number of markets, each with differing needs and issues, but is now seen as a “real housing choice”. Many prospective tenants now see private renting as a positive choice, with many actively choosing to rent rather than buy.

3) With this in mind, how do you see the PRS changing in the future? Do you think the sector is likely to grow?

There’s no doubt that the PRS will see continued growth in the coming years. More and more people are finding it difficult to get onto the home ownership ladder and there’s a serious reduction in the provision of social housing.
Plus, given the Government direction, including policies focusing on “affordable home ownership” rather than “affordable rent”, this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

4) Within the PRS at the moment, what are the biggest barriers for achieving this growth and making the sector better for landlords and tenants alike?

The market continues to evolve and change. The barriers as such will vary dependent upon the part of the market involved but landlords are faced with a raft of legislation to adhere to.

Many landlords now don’t necessarily see themselves as “landlords” but more as a property investor or an “accidental landlord”. It’s often here where problems arise as they aren’t always fully aware of their legal responsibilities.

Although there are a number of landlord associations (National Landlord Association and the Residential Landlord Association), they still only represent a tiny minority of landlords nationally. This means that there’s no major voice for the majority of landlords and I’d encourage them to join and take advantage of these associations, as it gives them easy access to information and advice.

There’s a need for better engagement with the sector to help educate these “accidental landlords” and enable them to provide safe and appropriate accommodation. It should be stated that these landlords aren’t necessarily ignoring legislation, but are instead simply unaware and in need of education.

5) Within your job, you obviously work closely with a great number of landlords. In your eyes, what makes a good landlord?

There are many good and professional landlords who provide an essential housing provision. These are typically landlords who engage with their trade associations, the local authority and ensure they’re aware of their legal and moral responsibilities – they aim to provide long term and sustainable tenancies.

6) And on the other side of the coin, what makes a good tenant and how do you recommend landlords find the right one?

I’m fully aware that some tenants can cause considerable inconvenience, concern and wilful damage to properties, as they don’t see the properties as their home or their responsibility in any way. However, I’m also aware that there are a number of incredibly good tenants out there. To ensure that a landlord has the correct tenants, I thoroughly recommend tenant referencing.

We always encourage landlords to source their tenant carefully, seek appropriate references and ensure any tenant is made aware of the expectations at the start of any tenancy. It’s also prudent to keep in regular contact with the tenant to identify and issues or concerns in advance where possible.

Overall, a landlord needs to know the market they’re operating in and take reasonable steps to provide information and advice where necessary and always seek appropriate tenant references.

Many landlords also rely on agents to help manage and source tenants – this can be a good option for accidental or part-time landlords, but I’d again urge them to identify a suitable and reputable agent and ensure they are happy with the arrangements put in place between the landlord and agent.

7) What types of policies do Leeds City Council have in place to help landlords and tenants? Are these similar to those of other local authorities? 

This authority has a wide range of policies aimed at developing the PRS market. Many are legislative requirements, but we’ve long since recognised the benefits of close working relationships with the private sector.

To this end, we’ve regular engagement with the trade associations and also hold local landlord forums. The associations and other landlord representatives are also invited to contribute to the housing forums in the city to help develop policy and procedures.

Leeds also facilitates a Leeds tenant federation – again a way of engaging with tenants across the city to understand their concerns and help them understand how they can help develop the PRS.

As I mentioned earlier, we also engage with other local authorities, locally, regionally and nationally – this is in part to share best practice and aim to provide consistency in approaches.

8) How do you feel about current Government regulations? How do they affect landlords?

Overall, the legislation appears fit for purpose. I’m aware that the landlords will believe there are too many and these should be “merged” for efficiencies.

The current Government has, in recent years, recognised the growth of the PRS and the effect a few bad landlords can have on the market in general. This has led to some new legislation, around the regulation of property and managing agents and new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Regulations.

In addition, they’re drafting a new Housing and Planning Bill that’ll introduce new powers to deal with “Rogue Landlords” and new ways of penalising those rogues, including a new banning order facility.

I feel that these are positive steps and shouldn’t impact on the majority of landlords who aim to provide quality, fit for purpose accommodation. However, it’ll allow local authorities to better target its resources on the rogue landlords and improve the sector overall.

9) Would you recommend landlords investing in buy-to-let property in Leeds?

Anyone looking to invest in the “buy-to-let” market needs to do careful research first. Changes to mortgage interest relief can mean that profitability is seriously affected. In addition, since the original growth in buy-to-let markets, the PRS has changed – house prices are inflated and the market has diversified.

Anyone interested should carefully consider what market they want to be involved with and whether it’s a marketable proposition -if so, as long as they do their homework (as I mentioned earlier), it can still be a good investment opportunity.

10) And finally, any other thoughts or insights you’d like to share with us on the PRS?

A well-managed and organised PRS is now essential to housing provision – it can provide a diverse and accessible market to many, those on low incomes / benefits, young couples unable to afford a mortgage, professionals not wishing to buy but wanting freedom to move around, the student market or the high end professional market.

We’ll continue to see the PRS grow in coming years and it’s essential that all stakeholders (local authorities, trade associations, landlords, agents, financial institutions etc.) all contribute in a positive and collaborative manner.


Image courtesy of iStock

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the views of Mike Brook and do not necessarily reflect the views of HomeLet.

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