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Landlords aren’t leaving the market in droves, admits Tory housing minister

Rachel Maclean said the narrative being pushed by some MPs and the property sector is ‘wrong’

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
22 March 2023, 2.55pm

A rental sign in London.


Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Landlords aren’t leaving the market in droves, a Conservative housing minister has admitted.

Rachel Maclean MP, the 15th housing minister since the Conservatives came to power, said the narrative that landlords are leaving the market because of new regulations is “wrong” – despite MPs in her own department peddling similar fears.

“Will I challenge that narrative? The answer is yes, the narrative is wrong,” Maclean said at an event on Tuesday in Westminster.

Speaking at the Renters’ Reform Coalition day of action on Tuesday, Maclean said that while some landlords leave, others will come to replace them.

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“What I believe is that there are lots of landlords in the PRS [private rented sector], and each of them will have their own reasons for being in it or not,” she said. “There’s something like 2.3 million landlords in this country. If one leaves, I'm almost certain another one will come in. So this idea that our regulation will drive them out in the sector. I don't accept that. “

“I've made that case to many colleagues, MPs on the right and the left, from all parties in Parliament.”


Housing minister Rachel Maclean.


Official portrait from UK Parliament.

The narrative that landlords are leaving the market as a result of increased regulation from the government has been repeated by Conservative ministers and the property sector.

Speaking at the National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA) national conference on the upcoming Renters’ Reform Bill regulations, housing minister Felicity Buchan – who works alongside Maclean – said that the Bill must “get the balance right” as “it is not in the interests of tenants for good landlords to be leaving the sector”.

During a debate on the private rented sector in November 2022, Tory MP Bob Blackman warned: “Many private sector landlords are leaving the market because it is no longer as profitable as it once was.” Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake has also said that more regulations would mean “less supply”.

Census data shows the private rented sector in England and Wales is growing. 5 million households rented privately in the two countries in 2021 up from 3.9 million in 2011. Figures from UK Finance show the number of buy-to-let mortgages has grown since 2019.

The NRLA has also made clear it fears landlords are leaving the sector. The lobbying group commissioned research into landlords leaving, under the headline, ‘Why are landlords exiting the PRS?’, concluding: “It is tax and the increase in costs associated with the PRS sector …which is driving landlords towards the exit.” While this research looks at landlords who have already left, it does not show an overall drop.

In a press release, the group, which represents around 100,000 landlords, also warned that unless tax rules are loosened, “renters face a bleak future as finding somewhere to live becomes increasingly harder”.

But the organisation's chief executive, Ben Beadle, admitted his warning of an exodus was not accurate.

Speaking during an industry webinar earlier this month, he said: “Actually the truth is that while some landlords are leaving the sector, this sector is actually still increasing. That’s not terribly helpful to our argument, to be honest with you. But in the context of the cost of living and rising costs we have to tell that story and link the two.”

A spokesperson for the NRLA told openDemocracy: “Private landlords, both in and out of the NRLA’s membership, consistently report that they are uncertain about the future viability of their businesses and whether to continue to invest in residential property to let.

“NRLA polling, and surveys commissioned independent of our membership all indicate that landlords currently active in the PRS are selling properties at a faster rate than they are buying. In our view, this cannot be considered a positive trend against the backdrop of a crisis in housing supply.”

Across the country, tenants are facing record rent increases, with estate agents encouraging landlords to “take advantage” of soaring rents. Section 21 “no fault” evictions mean tenants can be forced out of their homes if the rent hikes aren’t accepted, leaving vulnerable renters at risk of homelessness.

Tenant activism groups say it is important the “false narratives” are being challenged.

Siobhan Donnachie, a spokesperson from the London Renters’ Union told openDemocracy: "It’s outrageous that the landlord lobby is peddling false narratives about leaving the sector while landlords continue to tighten their grip on our housing system. Renters have waited too long for change and it is disappointing that the government has not publicly challenged this misinformation sooner.”

“Private profiteering is still on the rise, just as we are still haemorrhaging social housing every year. Millions of renters are paying the price, trapped in a poor-quality, insecure and extortionate private renting sector.”

She added: “We cannot allow our housing system to be held hostage by those who seek only to line their pockets. We will continue to fight for a system that prioritises human need over profit.”

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