The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock bemoans the plight of Britain's hard-pressed buy-to-letters
Why do people hate buy-to-let investors? I am forced to ask after I came across a website forum where some guys were having a real dig at me just because I'm a landlord. Now, I think I am quite a nice person, but these chaps ranting from their bedrooms in their pyjamas really don't like me one bit. One of them called me "vile" - and we've never even met.

While I'm flattered that anyone is actually reading this column, often enough to form an opinion of me, I don't mind admitting that I'm a little rattled at the fact that all the members of this particular forum are eagerly wishing for all landlords like me to go bankrupt.

Of course, it's easy to ignore a bunch of faceless bloggers, some of whom are clearly nuts, but now that the Government has joined in the landlord bashing with plans to more than double Capital Gains Tax for some, I feel the need to speak out. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind paying my taxes, the Government has to get some money from somewhere and I'm happy to pay my share, but it's the suggestion that buy-to-let (BTL) investors are going to be lumped in with all the property speculators in the taxation system, that has got me all fired up.

Egged on by his new best mate Nick Clegg, it looks as if David Cameron is going to raise CGT from 18 per cent to mirror investors' income tax, so some BTLers could be paying 50 per cent tax when they sell up.

The Liberal Democrats said in their manifesto that they wanted to make sure that those "using second homes as speculative investments" paid more tax, but landlords are not property speculators. Most of them are longterm investors providing much-needed rental accommodation.

What would happen if a significant proportion of the country's one million landlords said, "You know what, I have had enough of these pesky tenants, I'm not making much money, so I am going to sell up tomorrow."? Rents are already rising in London, where there is a shortage of accommodation, and if BTLers are prompted into a fire sale of their properties to avoid a future hike in Capital Gains Tax they are going to go up even more.

The growth of the BTL market since the Nineties has improved the standard of rental accommodation and kept rents competitive. Twenty years ago I was paying £320 a month for a room the size of a shoebox in a grotty north London flat. Today, with the shoe on the other foot, I am charging £360pcm for a double room including bills. Take away competition and prices rise.

Yes the Government has to find the money to fund its increase in the tax threshold for the less well-off and perhaps 18 per cent CGT is too low, but landlords are already making a healthy contribution to the economy.

They pay Stamp Duty when they buy a property and tax on rental profits. If they make a loss, unlike owners of holiday homes, they can't offset this against any other income.

Also, many of those who have invested in property have done so as a means of funding their retirement. Snatching a big chunk of their nest egg will leave these pensioners at the mercy of the State.

I'm not about to retire, I didn't invest in property to fund my old age and I wouldn't mind paying a higher rate of tax if I make any capital gains, but I think Mr Cameron should recognise landlords as legitimate businesses and tax them as long-term investors.

Victoria Whitlock is a mother of two who lets three properties in south London

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