For sweeping change, get a better broom

A shake-up is pledged to give private tenants a fairer deal, but the reforms politicians propose change nothing.
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Gosh, am I missing something here? It's just that I feel all the fuss about Labour leader Ed Miliband's plans to get tough on landlords is a tad hysterical. From what I can make out, the "sweeping reforms of the private rented housing sector" proposed recently actually amount to nothing more than a little light dusting - you know, the sort where you don't even bother to pick up the ornaments and wipe underneath.

What Ed said, when announcing these "sweeping reforms", is that he is going to introduce minimum three-year tenancies and cap rent increases. Except he won't, because he can't.

The majority of landlords have buy-to-let mortgages, many of which don't allow them to offer contracts of more than 12 months. As Labour has said that landlords will be allowed to enter into shorter contracts "where they are contractually obliged to do so as part of a buy-to-let mortgage entered into before the start of this new legislation" there'll be very little change, at least for existing landlords.

In fact, I would be surprised if there is any change at all because - listen up, Ed - most landlords would absolutely love their tenants to stay for three years or even longer. We lie awake at night worrying that they will leave us, and we plot cunning ways to make them stay. Personally, I would like to superglue mine to their beds, but I gather that's not legal. The reason most tenants leave is because they want to, Ed, that's one of the great advantages of renting. You move jobs, you can move house. You fall in love, you leave your bachelor pad to move in with your new squeeze. You decide to go off travelling, you can do so, often with no more than a month's notice. Decent landlords try their damndest to hang on to good tenants, we don't kick people out without good reason - and these "sweeping reforms" will still allow us to kick them out, with good reason.

For example, a landlord will be able to terminate a contract if a tenant falls into rent arrears, or if they are antisocial, or if they breach their tenancy agreements. Landlords will still be able to terminate a tenancy agreement if they want to sell the property or they need it for their own family, and they will still be able to force tenants out if they plan to refurbish a property. So what has changed, exactly? Rent increases are to be capped, apparently, probably by no more than the rate of inflation, which is fair enough, but if landlords want to be greedy and push for more they will just say they are refurbishing the property, kick out the tenants, tart it up a bit and stick it back on the market. I don't think many will do this and most will be happy with rent increases linked to RPI. I'm just saying, it is a possibility.

The only thing I can find to rejoice about in these "sweeping reforms" is a potential ban on letting agents charging tenants administration fees. I say "potential" because I expected letting agents will find a way of packaging up these fees into something else, so they will still exist but with a different name.

No, I don't think there is much to get excited about in these reforms.

They might put off some people who are toying with the idea of investing in rental property, which is probably part of Ed's plan, but on the whole I don't think they will have much impact at all.

Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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