As the letting fees ban looms ahead, it is clear that however it plays out we are seeing more and more power being given to tenants, at a time when the private rented sector as a whole is changing.
Traditionally tenants were in their 20s, but now the demographic is much wider, with professionals in their 30s, families and retirees choosing to rent for lifestyle reasons, or because they simply can’t afford to buy a property in their local area.
Rising property prices, lifestyle changes and the availability of high quality rental properties has led to a boom in tenants.
Around 5 million households, or 21% of the total, are in private rented accommodation and a quarter of these are families with children. This is set to surge to 5.79 million, or 24%, over the next five years, alongside 14.3 million owner occupiers and 4.3 million social tenants, according to an annual report from estate agency Knight Frank.
This growth in the rental market has led to intense campaigning by the likes of Shelter and Generation Rent, who are working towards improving the quality of rental accommodationprovided to social and private tenants and improving their rights. New government legislation has also been introduced to protect tenants, such as such as the new green energy laws which are helping to reduce energy bills. However, it remains to be seen how the ban on letting agents’ fees will impact tenants and if in the long term, it is in their interests.
Several local councils have also introduced new licensing schemes for landlords to maintain housing and fire safety standards.
Earlier this month, four Lincolnshire property investment landlords were forced to pay £232,155, after failing to obtain the licensing required under the new selective licensing regime in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, which came into effect in July 2016.
All landlords in the area need to obtain a licence from the council, which will require investors to maintain their properties in accordance with certain conditions. The aim behind the scheme is to improve property standards in the town and keep a monitor on anti-social behaviour.
The safety and security of tenants is becoming a major concern for the government and local councils following the Grenfell Tower fire, which has put the plight of tenants in hi-rise flats under the microscope.
The good news is that professional and reputable landlords and property investors are empowering tenants in a very positive way, through technology.Smartphone apps arebeing offered to tenants,so they can access gas safety certificates and call for help via an emergency button, reassuring tenants and helping to improve their safety.
Technology is allowing tenants to sign contracts and access them along with financial documents without looking through mountains of paperwork, or potentially loosing important documents. Now tenants can access information from documentation, frequently asked questions, financial information, but above all they can raise and track any issues.
Via apps, tenants can take a photo on their phone and attach this to a message that informs the letting agent, or landlord, of any issues with the property. The tenant can then track the progress of the landlord or letting agent and see when the issue is resolved. This speeds up communications and is more efficient, giving peace of mind for the tenants. It can also help prevent disputes, as all parties have a log of all the information relating to the issue.
While it remains to be seen if further legislation will be introduced to support tenants, it is inevitable a big game changer will be technology. Tenant retention and tenant sanity will translate itself into a calmer management environment.
By Rochelle Trup, finance director of Arthur.