Monday, 20 September 2010

Leaseholder magazine critises Coalition over refusal to regulate landlords


The new housing minister, Grant Shapps, has announced that the government will not be proceeding with Labour’s plans to regulate landlords and managing agents. The previous government was planning to implement the landlord licensing proposals as recommended in last year’s Rugg Review of the private rented sector.

Whilst CARL is dubious of the benefits of simply setting up a register of landlords and agents, we strongly disagree with Mr Shapps’ assertion that the present law “strikes the right balance” between landlords and tenants. Julian Knight, writing in the Independent on Sunday (11 July), made the point in somewhat blunter terms: “Mr Shapps, if you believe the system offers enough support to leaseholders, you are either deluded or simply don’t give a damn.”

The more likely reason for the government’s lack of concern for the country’s three million leaseholders is the generous support provided to the Conservative Party by leading billionaire landlords, including the Duke of Westminster, the Earl of Cadogan and the Marquess of Salisbury.

Mr Shapps says that local councils have the power to prosecute rogue landlords. They certainly do have  these powers, but they never bother to use them. If Mr Shapps is serious about tackling rogue landlords, who operate on a much larger scale that he is prepared to admit, he will need to take the responsibility for prosecution away from incompetent local councils and give it to a regulator with teeth.

After he became prime minister, David Cameron said in a speech: “I want to help try and build a more responsible society here in Britain. One where we don’t just ask what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities. One where we don’t just ask what am I owed, but more what can I give.” Contrast that statement with the behaviour of the Earl of Cadogan, leading light in the Chelsea Conservatives, who pursues leaseholders right up to the House of Lords to extract the last penny out of them if they should dare to want to free themselves from his control.

The government could easily develop its Big Society proposals, designed to empower local communities, into the housing sector. No area could be more receptive to such treatment than blocks of flats, which in the main are owned and controlled by faceless and remote freeholders and managing agents.

CARL has been in correspondence with Mr Shapps since well before the election took place. At his request, we recently sent him our proposals for reform (see page 2). However, he appears to have already taken key decisions about issues affecting the lives of millions of people well before he has even had time to consider their views. This smacks of arrogance in government.

Mr Shapps claims that the tribunal system provides an easy remedy for leaseholders, who can simply turn up unrepresented and challenge their landlord. Easier said than done, as most leaseholders could tell him. His landlord friends take cases well beyond the tribunals, with appeals reaching the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court). Would you have the ability to defend a case in the highest court of the land unrepresented,  Mr Shapps?