Addressing housing in South Devon has been a top priority since I was elected in 2019. Over the course of the last four years, I have made it my mission to find ways in which we can address the imbalance between short and long-term lets, as well as helping residents onto the housing ladder.
The pandemic pushed the number of short-term lets sky high. As a result, long-term rental property availability for those who live and work in the area reduced further and further. In an effort to address this distortion, I led the campaign to change the rules around short-term lets and second homes.
Within these measures, now enshrined in law, is a new national registration scheme for short-term let properties. The register promises to help identify all properties available for short-term let, so as to ensure that we have an accurate picture of their numbers as well as an ability to protect our communities.
Across the South West, our towns and villages have been hollowed out by the sheer number of short-term lets. Once bustling towns, vibrant high streets and successful businesses are now struggling to operate throughout the year. The sense of community reduced and our society weakened. Some might comment that this is just an example of the free market, but they would be wrong.
The imbalance has been created by previous, and now proposed, changes to the long-term rental market. The social value of a responsible landlord letting their property for long periods of time is immense. It provides a home to a family, a sense of security and above all, provides a huge social value to our community and country.
However, the removal of Section 24 (mortgage rate relief) in 2014 has severely disincentivised the buy-to-let market. Coupled with the added costs of insurance and interest, many landlords have struggled on, all the while considering whether it is worth it.
Unfortunately, Michael Gove is set to pour further fuel on the bonfire of landlords through his Renters Reform Bill. While the Bill retains some positive elements such as providing more security and certainty for tenants, it also looks set to severely disincentivise long-let landlords and obliterate the rental market that so many millions depend upon.
The removal of Section 21 (no fault evictions) is of course the right course of action. However, to do so and expect a bloated and backlogged court system to provide speedy legal recourse for landlords is foolish at worst and naïve at best. Instead, a new clause must be added to ensure landlords feel in control of the property they have worked hard to purchase. Changing circumstances for any individual cannot be legislated against, so we must be careful not to tie their hands behind their backs.
Fixed term tenancies are a necessary agreement between renter and owner, and their removal threatens to create loopholes that will only reduce the market further in favour of short-term lets. Especially in places such as South Devon, where the risk of a long-term let property being handed back after two months will do nothing other than push more properties into the short term let market.
As is often the case, a few rogue landlords have corrupted the perception of them all. The 3.5 million landlords across this country provide a huge service to those who either do not wish to buy or cannot yet do so. Those who do let their properties in South Devon do so at hugely reduced costs when compared to what they could make on platforms such as Airbnb. They provide housing for those who work in our businesses and contribute to our community. They help bind our social fabric together and ensure our historic coastal communities are more than just tourist destinations. So as this Bill progresses through Parliament, I intend to knock into shape so as to protect tenants but also ensure we are incentivising landlords to provide the properties we need.