‘I want to get out’: two landlords on the ‘broken’ property rental market | Property

“It is not a housing market that is working or fair,” says Sajjad Ahmad, who has been in the world of private renting for more than 40 years. “Rents are far, far too high.” But Ahmad is not one of the 11 million private tenants in England and Wales. Instead, he is among a growing number of landlords who now agree with many of their tenants that the system is broken.

He had 30 flats and houses across England – in Grimsby, Kirkby and Crawley – until he sold 16 last year. “I want to get out of the sector,” he says. And he’s not alone. Hamptons recently said that by the end of the year landlords will have sold 294,300 more homes than they have bought since 2016 – equivalent to more than the total number of households in Manchester.

In the Living Hell series over the last two weeks, the Guardian has exposed problems for private tenants ranging from overcrowding, mould and damp to unfair evictions and cripplingly high rents.

A fifth of households now rent their homes from private landlords in England and Wales, and a large minority of renters find their home hinders rather than helps them achieve their life goals.

Speaking to two private landlords, a surprisingly similar frustration with the status quo emerges.

‘Lurking in the corridors is Shelter’

“I have been a landlord for a long time and I don’t want to leave but the way things are going, it is not good,” says Ahmad, who also serves as the chief executive of the British Landlords Association. “It’s just broken and it’s not working. I am really frustrated and angry. I am looking at people on benefits and how they are not finding somewhere to live.”

He blames letting agents for pushing up rents and encouraging bidding wars for new lets. “That’s wrong,” he says. “We too have families and our families are renting too.”

Rents on new lets in September this year were up 27% from January 2020, according to Zoopla. But landlords’ costs are rising too after 13 consecutive interest rate rises and amid a shortage of building workers, which is driving up maintenance costs.

The benefits system discourages landlords from taking on tenants who rely on housing benefit, Ahmad says. He is among landlords who prefer not to rent to benefit claimants. “The rent is paid in arrears and if there’s a problem with the benefit the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] will never speak to you.”

He also says landlords find it too difficult to regain possession of their properties. The pending but delayed ban on “no-fault” evictions could make that harder.

Ahmad started as a landlord aged 18 and he recalls how they used to be able to get their properties back “no questions asked”. Now, he says, “lurking in the corridors of the courts is Shelter”, the housing charity that advises tenants how to defend themselves from evictions and, says Ahmad, “scupper the rights of the landlord”.

Shelter says it “exists to defend the right to a safe home” and it is not anti-landlord. It says it works with landlord organisations “to improve the system so that it is fairer for everyone”.

Ahmad says court hearings often become complicated by objections that result in an 18-month period in which the landlord cannot retake possession “because the court systems are not working”. His theory is this: “The government has made it difficult to get your housing back because they have failed in their housing policy and should have built more social housing.”

This view on social housing brings Ahmad into an unlikely alliance with Shelter and other housing campaigners, who see building hundreds of thousands of new affordable homes as the fundamental solution to the private renting crisis.

‘We get a really bad rap’

Adrian Foster-Fletcher, who owns six rental properties in Berkshire, has made more than £1m from rising house prices in his portfolio. The operating profits are less spectacular. He says he makes £84,000 a year in rent from the six homes and has about £20,000 in costs. It is in effect a net return of 4.3% on the combined £1.5m value of the homes – less than the return on a fixed-term savings account.

“The government thinks private landlords are making a lot of money and we’re not,” he says. “We keep getting new laws that are complex and expensive.”

He says he spent £10,000 improving the energy performance of his rentals under a rule that has now been dropped. He opposes the ban on no-fault evictions, citing a tenant who was “rude, aggressive and nasty” when he asked them to clear up dog faeces strewn across the garden after complaints from neighbours. “I can’t have someone like that living in my house,” he says. “I need to have a way to get them to leave.”

Unlike Ahmad, Foster-Fletcher isn’t planning to exit. But he says the public opprobrium that landlords face is dangerous because it forces some to sell up. He describes his prospects as good, partly because other landlords are pulling out.

He puts rents up when new tenants come in but recently held one tenant’s rent for two years because “I could see it would cause them real hardship [to raise it] – they have two children and I couldn’t have it on my conscience that they would have a tough life because the landlord wanted £200 more a month.”

He adds: “We get a really bad rap. The papers always take the side of the tenant.”