Opinion

Should tenants get a share of the profits of their landlords' buy-to-let? Readers have their say

Big Issue founder John Bird's recent article about the profits from buy-to-lets prompted readers to respond with their thoughts – from both sides of the tenancy divide

A model of a house and some keys, green and blue on a white background

Image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I read the opinion piece by John Bird about renters with some interest, as I am one of the nation’s many small buy-to-let landlords. Mr Bird’s argument will appeal to many – let the haves give more to the have-nots – but it is important to consider the whole picture. What is causing rents and house prices to be so high? Why are there so many small landlords in the UK? I would like to add the perspective of a small landlord.

I own just three properties. Why did I become a landlord? Because I have no faith in the government to provide a reasonable pension in my old age. As for private pensions, two thirds of fund managers under-perform their benchmarks. As a result, I long ago decided not to be dependent on anyone else for my retirement. I did not inherit wealth, nor do I earn huge sums of money. The last time I bought a BTL property in 2010, I was on a salary of £27k, which in London doesn’t go that far. But I made sacrifices. I lived with my mother for longer than a grown man should, I watched my spending incredibly carefully and I saved hard. Then I bought run-down properties at auction. I spent £25,000 on each of them installing new central heating systems, wiring, kitchens, bathrooms and wood flooring. I took an uninhabitable mess and created something that people want to live in. All while working a full-time job.

In recent years, the Tory government has launched a full-on assault on private landlords. Mr Bird mentions ‘tax breaks’ but in reality, there are none. The wear and tear allowance is gone. I am not a higher rate tax payer, but if I were, I would not be able to claim all my interest as an expense, making landlords the only type of business that cannot claim all their expenses as a tax-deductible cost.

There are many factors causing the rise in house prices and rents. Mr Bird correctly points to banks’ preference for mortgage lending, rather than, say, lending to businesses. The government could easily impose restrictions on property lending, as used to exist back when the price of the average house was a reasonable 3.5x the average income. Additionally, 15 years of near-zero interest rates has distorted the market. But, underpinning it all, is population growth. In the 1990s the population of the UK was 55 million, today it is 78m. That is a lot of extra people who need somewhere to live.

If we are to redistribute more from the haves to the have-nots, I am all in favour of it, but can we please start by insisting that billionaires and multinationals like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Starbucks pay their fair share of tax, rather than expropriating the pensions of people like me who are not even higher-rate taxpayers? 

Karim Ayoubi, Northampton

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If John Bird wants to see renters benefit they must also be liable for any losses that the landlord bears if selling the property for less than they bought it. The landlord does not create the increased value, it arises from the external housing market conditions, over which the landlord has no control.

Landlords no longer get full relief on the mortgage costs on their BTL property and any income they receive is taxed, less any justified expenses in ensuring their tenants have fully functioning appliances for which they are responsible. They also have to pay for annual gas safety checks, which I doubt the average freeholder of a house bothers about until something goes wrong.

The forthcoming legislation on rental properties provides more protection for tenants and is welcomed by responsible landlords. Abroad, particularly in Germany, renting rather than ownership is the norm and is accepted as such thanks to legislation that provides good protection for tenants.

Bob Wiggins, Chichester

I can understand – a little – why landlords might feel aggrieved at the idea that their efforts to make housing available for rent might leave them out of pocket, or even having to return value accrued on a property that they have paid both a deposit and mortgage on back to tenants, but I think we need a little context here.

What we refer to as “buy to let” is not a new phenomenon but a result of property market deregulation. An extended period of low interest rates and a significantly large baby boom generation (asset rich through the fortunate circumstances of living through their era) meant that it became the default way to maintain wealth at a time when conventional savings offered very little. However, this created a huge number of private landlords with little or no experience and, though the returns were nice, the responsibilities proved irksome. Many sold up to larger, rather more rapacious concerns who can essentially treat their tenants as a disposable asset – for example all the ex local authority housing now in private ownership because of the short-term idiocy of right to buy – and even among those who remain landlords, how many have handed over the management of their property to agents whose sole concern is in maximising the returns?

There are almost certainly private landlords who are more engaged in the business of actually being a landlord, taking their responsibilities seriously and treating their tenants with respect and fairness but I would suggest they are a very small minority (no, I don’t have evidence for this other than having lived in the UK all of my 62 years and seeing a post-WWII consensus that wanted to make a better, fairer Britain dismantled by self interested stupidity and avarice), and to those I would say thank you. But for all the rest… tough shit – as I’m sure all of the enthusiastic capitalists among you would say to those who whinge on about extortionate rents and low wages.

Paul Duncan

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