An award-winning Northern Ireland letting agent has welcomed the recent publication of ‘proposals for change’ in the Private rented Sector here.
Robert McDowell, director of Rea Estates, Belfast and North Down, said the proposals were timely given the continued rise in the province of so-called ‘Generation Rent’.
The proposals are the latest stage in a statutory review into PRS in Northern Ireland where the sector now accounts for 16% of rented homes – comparable to the level of people living in social housing.
Having published its proposals, the Department for Communites which launched the review last year, is now seeking feedback from stakeholders on a range of areas from letting agent regulation and landlord training to the mandatory fitting of carbon monoxide alarms in PRS properties.
“We welcome the interest being shown in the sector which plays such a key role in the housing market here but we hope the decision-makers take on board feedback from stakeholders so that any changes which are ultimately introduced are feasible, accountable and will actually improve things for both landlords and tenants,” said Mr McDowell, whose business has won the Propertynews Letting Agent of the Year title for the last two years.
“Central to any review must be the crucial role PRS is playing in alleviating Northern Ireland’s housing shortage but legislation hasn’t always reflected that.
“For instance the introduction of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme has been a real boon for landlords, tenants and agents, but the Landlord Registration Scheme is something that landlords have neither understood nor derived any benefit from.
“However, the publication of these proposals on PRS in Northern Ireland is indeed timely as we see the profile of tenants markedly and progressively change in Northern Ireland. This review is a chance to shape the future for a new generation.
“At its core should be a policy encouraging landlords to keep investing, taking into account that the PRS and landlord investor is what is actually helping resolve our current housing shortage.
“I would suggest that the policy needs to provide incentives to landlords to continue investing, for instance, soft touch regulation so as not to overburden the landlord with administration.
“The landlord is facing headwinds from Westminster too with increased costs (3% surcharge on second homes) and changes in taxation. The fear of further costs may make investment in the PRS unattractive to landlords with a knock on effect on housing supply.
“Tenants in this sector have traditionally been thought of as a transient group. However, we have seen a growing number of longer term PRS tenants – concurring with statistics from a University of showing that half tenants questioned had lived in their accommodation up to five years and a quarter had lived for over five years.
“Similarly, we’re also seeing more people who want to stay in the PRS and fewer people wanting to leave – and crucially, tenant satisfaction ratings are high also.
“We believe too that PRS plays an important role in providing rented housing solutions for those on low and modest incomes who want to live in a shared area.
“For all these reasons then, the PRS will continue to play an increasingly important role in Northern Ireland’s housing market.
“It is essential therefore that when stakeholders have this chance to help mould the future of the sector through the review, they make the most of their opportunity.”