building crane city

How did we get from the 1990s BTL boom to today’s crisis?

If you are old enough to recall the heady days of 1996 then memories of the first BTL mortgage may come flooding back.

The BTL boom was a seminal moment in the sector’s development. Yes, de-regulation of tenancy law, cheap properties and strong tenant demand had all made property ‘hot’. But easier access to BTL mortgages really lit the touchpaper.

Also, investors at the time were also supported by a Government keen to see more people provide for their retirement through property, including via tax breaks.

So how did we get to today’s ‘housing crisis’ and, I guess many of you may wonder, how did a Tory party move from encouraging investment in privately rented homes to intentionally putting investors off via higher taxes, reams of new red tape and rhetoric that paints the community as ‘rogue’?

If politicians’ attempts to reduce investment in rented homes succeed, and the data suggests that it has, let’s remember there is no one else available to fill the void. Construction of social and affordable rented homes has been under-cooked for years, and the emerging build-to-rent sector has a long way to go before it’s a major player.

But rather than build more, the Tories have looked for scapegoats. Sure, everyone knows that the minority of landlords who are rogue or criminal need to be rooted out and punished, and most good ones grudgingly put up with the extra bureaucracy and cost that this entails.

But on the other hand, George Osborne’s decision in 2015 to withdraw tax relief for landlords on mortgage interest payments is unfathomable.

His argument, which I heard him make at a conference, was that it’s unfair that first time buyers did not get tax breaks while landlords did.

This doesn’t stack up – first time buyers have been, and still do, get given several direct and indirect tax breaks including paying less stamp duty than other buyers, and until recently being offered schemes such as Help to Buy.

So why have consecutive Conservative governments turned on private landlords in this way? Having watched policy develop over the past two-and-a-half decades, I have a view.

I believe Tory strategists are seeking to stop people renting homes because they would prefer them to become home owners and, therefore, vote Conservative. But as home ownership has become impossible for millions of younger ‘future voters’ so giving renters more power within the landlord/tenant relationship has become appealing.

This will not work. The ongoing shortage of rental homes means rents will remain high for years to come, and tenants are unlikely to thank any Government for the subtle improvements within the Renters (Reform) Bill going through parliament.
If you think this all sounds like me doom mongering, you are wrong. What’s needed is an approach that takes a pragmatic, rather than ideological approach to renting.

Here’s my manifesto. Landlords and investors should be incentivised with tax breaks to provide the warmest, safest and best-run properties.

Local councils must be set free to build affordable homes to rent without financial restraint (i.e. allowed to keep their Right to Buy receipts) and also given substantial ring-fenced funding to kick out the rogues who make some tenants’ lives hell.

Everyone agrees that we need more homes to rent. The Tories have failed to achieve this for the reasons I’ve set out above. Let’s hope Labour can do better.


Manchester property city view rental yields property investors. BTL

Aerial view of Manchester city in UK


Nigel Lewis is an award-winning journalist and editor who has covered the property sector for 25 years including work on national newspapers, magazines and online news and features including spells at The Daily Mail as well as Channel 4 and, more recently, leading specialist titles covering property investment, buy-to-let and the agency sector.

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