A Nation of Embarrassed Landlords

A Nation of Embarrassed Landlords

By Tracy Moran


Because who wants to be called “low-rent”?

By Tracy Moran

Londoner Gary O’Toole was told — unjustifiably, by his count — that he wouldn’t get his deposit back on his flat when he moved. Rather than cutting his losses, he threatened to sue the owner … and it worked. He’s since found new rental accommodation in the Big Smoke but remains “shocked and appalled at the general standard of landlord and what they are able to get away with,” the 34-year-old digital marketer says. Which may explain, at least in part, why …

One in five British landlords is too embarrassed to admit it.

According to a recent survey of almost 800 residential property investors by the National Landlords Association (NLA), 21 percent of British landlords admit they’ve been too embarrassed in the past to fess up to how they earn a living. The Scottish contingent, meanwhile, showed that only 13 percent of landlords suffer such misgivings. 

It’s seen as particularly vulgar to make money from housing.

The NLA’s Alex Brent says that while the figure was surprisingly high, “it was, unfortunately, not entirely unthinkable that some landlords might feel that they couldn’t always be honest about letting property.” He attributes this to the amount of hostility toward British landlords in the press along with popular opinion. Richard Blanco, a landlord with 13 properties in London, however, says he’s not at all surprised by the figure. 

Part of it can be attributed to English middle-class guilt, and Blanco readily admits that it’s seen as rude to make money in the U.K. But, he adds, “it’s seen as particularly vulgar to make money from housing.” Much of this links back to Edwardian- and even Victorian-era stereotypes in which loads of poor people were forced to live in poor, cramped conditions, he explains. Then, in the 1950s and ’60s, with legislation that put caps on rental prices, investment in rental accommodation dropped, giving way to complaints about penny-pinching landlords or, worse, rich and old-fashioned remote landlords.

While many of these images persist in the popular opinion, Blanco says, the last 15 years have seen a major professionalization of British landlords. The private rented sector today accounts for 19 percent of the estimated 22.5 million households, according to the 2014–2015 English Housing Survey, which means roughly 5 million British homes rent from private landlords. While rental properties accounted for just 10 percent of Britain’s households in the ’80s and ’90s, it has doubled since and been maintained since 2002. Brent credits the removal of rent controls, assured shorthand tenancies and flexibility in length of tenancies for the uptick. The decline of Britain’s social housing sector and escalating home prices also play into rental demand.

Yet for all the negativity foisted upon British landlords, when asked, most renters seem to like their landlords just fine, Blanco says, pointing to recent polls. A survey by Paragon Mortgages, for example, shows that 81 percent of British tenants are quite satisfied with their current landlords, while 70 percent even said they felt their rent was a good value for the money. In London it can be more of a challenge, Blanco admits, because “anything gets let,” which leads to quality issues and complaints about landlords. O’Toole agrees, referring to the situation in the British capital as appalling: “Even at viewings you are treated as if they are doing you a favor for even getting back to you,” he says. 

But Blanco believes there’s room for hope. Thanks to a professionalization in rental ownership, “there are more of us that are good than people realize.” But until that sinks in, he and his colleagues may reserve the right to be economic with the truth when asked about how they earn a living.