Decisions taken by government – including those taken by councils at local level – may bring sweeping changes to the way in which a landlord is able to set up and run his or her business.
You only have to look at the devastation wrought on this important sector of the economy by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s decision in the autumn of 2016 to phase out the tax relief previously enjoyed by buy to let landlords on their mortgages.
At a stroke, therefore, the effect was to significantly increase the costs borne by landlords, to the extent that many may not be able to afford to run their businesses. At the time, the Telegraph newspaper pulled no punches in describing the effect of the decision tolling the death knell of the buy to let sector.
But even when it might be the prospect of quite literally the life or death of your business, what might a single landlord do? Running such a business is a relatively solitary and lonely business. One small voice of protest is likely to be no more than a barely heard cry in the wilderness.
A collective voice – on behalf of a large proportion of nearly 2 million landlords involved in this £60 billion industry – is likely to speak far more loudly and with much greater authority. That is the role of the landlord association.
Landlord associations speak on behalf of their members – and by extension – for the industry as a whole.
Given their impact on the future shape and health of this critical sector of the housing market, therefore, this brief guide looks at:
- what are landlord associations?
- what are some of the benefits of membership?
- how can a landlord association help?
- should I join one? and
- a short list of the principal landlord associations.
What they are?
By providing a collective voice, landlords associations may be seen as offering a support network for residential landlords and their letting agents:
- landlords’ associations gather information and views from their members about both the major and more minor developments in the buy to let market and the experiences encountered by landlords;
- by disseminating and sharing those views and experiences, the association may help other landlords better understand and prepare themselves for current market conditions and difficulties which they too may face;
- by sharing this information, the association may play a role in making known some of the lessons members may have learned the hard way, so making life easier for other members, who might learn from those same lessons;
- in addition, a landlords’ association may act as a valuable resource centre for landlords – offering a range of advice on anything from practical tips and suggestions to specialist advice about tenancy issues or the rights, obligations and responsibilities of landlords;
- at a time when there seems no let-up in the number of new pieces of legislation likely to affect the way a landlord is able to run his business, the landlord association may be first with the news of such legislation being enacted, the implications for landlords in general and what individual landlords might need to do in order to comply with that new legislation;
- as a collective voice, speaking on behalf of all of its like-minded members, moreover, the landlords’ association may also seek to influence the way in which any new legislation is drafted;
- landlords’ associations speak not just to their members but also to important decision makers and stakeholders such as government, local authorities, other associations, businesses and anyone involved in the housing sector;
- in this way, landlords’ associations act as a pressure group – giving voice to members’ concerns;
- they are able to use the pressure they may bring to bear in attempting to influence decision makers to take on board the interests of member landlords and the industry as a whole;
- landlords’ associations typically run campaigns in defence of members’ interests and maintain the momentum of those campaigns until some or all of its objectives have been met;
- whilst talking and communicating actively with its members, government, local authorities and other decision makers, landlords’ associations also play an important role in projecting the industry’s image to the public as a whole;
- there are landlords’ associations operating at both the national and regional level and associations designed for both commercial residential lettings and those for non-profit;
- through their relations with the printed and broadcast media, landlords’ associations help to project a favourable image of landlords, buying to let and the practical role of letting agents;
- as part of their public relations role, landlords’ associations are typically responsible for briefing the media through press releases, interviews and other news stories.
In answering the question about what landlords’ associations are, therefore, it may be seen that they perform a wide variety of functions, all aimed at promoting the residential buy to let industry.
Benefits of membership
The principal benefits of membership flow naturally from the nature, purposes and objectives of a landlord association.
In view of those benefits, it may be surprising how relatively few landlords take advantage of them by signing up for membership to one of the several available and active landlords’ associations. The website Landlord Appliance Protection, for instance, draws attention to the fact that there are up to an estimated 1.9 million landlords in the UK at the moment, but that membership of the two leading associations – the National Landlord Association (NLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA) – stands at only about 40,000 and 17,000 respectively.
There remains a huge army of residential landlords, in other words, who appear to have passed up on the opportunity of membership of a landlords’ association. What might they be missing out on?
- the overriding benefit – especially for anyone new to the role of landlord – is the sheer diversity and breadth of knowledge on offer;
- this knowledge – in the way of shared experiences, observations, forums and discussion threads – may come from fellow landlords or pooled in a central resource by the association itself;
- lessons – both the good and the bad – may be learned from the experiences of other landlords;
- information about the legal rights and obligations of a landlord, together with recently enacted legislation or new rules which are appearing on the horizon, is also invaluable for both seasoned landlords and newcomers alike;
- the vast majority of difficulties and problems you are likely to encounter as a landlord are likely to have been experienced by others before you;
- the landlords’ association typically acts a depository for that kind of information, which serves as a whole library of advice, suggestions and tips;
- the information you need may be available through the association’s helpline, giving you access to the kind of specialist information that might cost you a lot of money elsewhere;
- in addition to a range of guides and information pages, landlords’ associations may also offer standard form letters, documents and templates which you may download from the members’ area of the website;
Discounts and special offers
- thanks to its industry wide contacts, your landlords’ association is likely to be in touch with all the latest discounts and special offers likely to be of interest to landlords;
- these might range from special offers and promotions on various types of insurance to deals being offered by tradesmen and suppliers in your particular area;
- the ability to claim membership of a well-known, reputable and nationally recognised organisation is likely to lend your buy to let business a certain status and standing – inspiring greater trust in you as a landlord by your tenants, local authorities and suppliers;
- membership frequently assumes or requires your compliance with the association’s code of good practice, which once again is likely to inspire greater confidence from tenants, letting agents and local authorities.
Given the wide ranging benefits of membership of a landlords’ association, it may be surprising that such a relatively small proportion of landlords appear to be members.
Can they help?
The help that can be offered by a landlords’ association depends on the particular association but also on the nature of the help you are seeking.
In many instances, the association might make quite explicit the sort of help which it aims to give. The Southern Landlords’ Association, for instance, says that it exists quite simply to help landlords and letting agents to run their businesses. Help in running your business, of course, might take many different forms.
Advice and information
The greatest help and support – for seasoned landlords, newcomers, professional landlords and accidental landlords alike – is likely to be the advice and information which a landlords’ association is able to offer.
All have websites, the majority publish a periodical newsletter, have discussion forums for sharing advice and – perhaps most importantly of all – maintain a telephone helpline if you want advice or guidance on a particular subject. Thus, you have access to more or less unlimited help, any time of the day or night.
Even though the majority charge a membership fee, this is likely to pale into insignificance when compared to the cost of obtaining advice elsewhere. The annual membership cost, for example, might be equivalent to only half of an hour’s of a solicitor’s fees. Furthermore, unlike the solicitor, the landlord association is dealing all of the time, day in and day out, exclusively on issues affecting landlords.
The bigger picture
Whilst you are absorbed in the hectic and demanding day to day business of running your buy to let enterprise, it might be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
That overview of the industry in which you are working is maintained by a landlords’ association at either the national or regional level.
Seeing the wood for the trees in this way, may help you prepare for the future, rather than be taken by surprise when major decision and changes in the law require a whole new approach to the way in which you run your business.
The recent decision to phase out tax relief on mortgage repayments may, once again, be a particular case in point. All of the leading landlords’ associations had been warning government about the likely effect of such a change, yet the decision was taken anyway, and the problems caused for the industry seem likely to be just as the associations predicted.
Comrades in arms
The point has already been made about the potentially solitary and lonely – not to mention very busy – existence of the typical landlord battling to ensure that the income from rents is at the very least equal to the expense of running the business and the demands of mortgage repayments, insurance, and never-ending maintenance schedules.
Through membership of a landlords’ association you are joining forces with a whole army of independent landlords – many of them just like you – up and down the country and all facing similar struggles, issues and problems. A worry shared is a worried halved, as they say.
Helping to get your voice across
By the same token, it may be difficult to make your own small voice heard in the courts of public opinion or in the councils of the nation’s decision makers.
The collective voice and power of a landlords’ association, however, may give vent to your views and frustrations in a way that at least provides some possibility of these being taken into account when important changes in national policy are made.
This is the forum in which the particular, detailed views of thousands of individual members meets the wider picture seen by the association that represents you and makes its case to the powers that be.
It might not seem it at the time, and your voice might appear to have no immediate effect, but in the longer term and with the weight of many other voices expressing similar sentiments and frustrations as your own, the landlords’ association may give you the opportunity of affecting the very environment in which you are attempting to run your business.
Should I join one?
It is a question that only you can answer of course.
You might approach the question by taking the strictly financial decision of whether the cost of membership is good value for money compared with the benefits you receive. In simple terms, are you likely to get out of it more than you put in.
The point has already been made that in many cases, the cost of membership is likely to represent a fraction of the cost of only a small amount of any solicitor’s time. If you need to see your solicitor for advice only once a year, therefore, it may be argued that membership of a landlords’ association has more than paid for itself.
The point might be made more specifically by looking at the some of current membership rates (as at February 2016) for the leading national associations:
Each association has different levels of membership, offering different levels of support, with “associate” membership in some instances, for example, being entirely free of charge.
There are many services and facilities, however, which are less easy to measure in purely financial terms.
You might want to become a member of an association, for example, simply for that knowledge and reassurance that you are not alone, but that support from like-minded fellow landlords is just a click away on the website, through a newsletter or via a discussion forum.
Whether at the regional or national level, it is also difficult to put a price on the benefits you derive from the lobbying conducted by a landlords’ association and the efforts that go into presenting the industry of which you are a part in the most positive and favourable light.
List of associations
Landlords’ associations exist at both national and regional level – the former acting as pressure groups and lobbyists for the industry as a whole and regional associations reflecting the more particular, local concerns of their members.
The leading national associations are:
From its offices in London, the NLA keeps its members abreast of the steading expanding regulatory framework within which today’s landlord operates – there are currently no fewer than 50 Acts of Parliament and 70 separate Regulations with an influence on the way landlords do business;
Formed under its present name in 1998, the RLA’s history stretches back over rather more years as a leading spokesman for the rights and interests of private sector, residential landlords – its membership currently representing some quarter of a million tenanted homes;
The GRL puts help and support to its members first and foremost – advice online and through unlimited requests for help by telephone also backs up members’ access to more than 100 downloadable forms and templates commonly used in the course of the typical landlord’s business.
The three national associations also maintain a network of regional and local branches and offices, some of which are listed below:
- Barnsley Residential Landlords Association – a regional branch of the RLA;
- Cornwall Residential Landlords Association – also a regional branch of the RLA;
- Darlington and District Private Landlords Association – a non-profit organisation for private landlords in the area, founded in 1993 and currently with around 100 members;
- Devon Landlords Association – run by landlords for landlords, the association is a non-profit organisation;
- East Midlands Property Owners – represents landlords in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester;
- Gateshead Private Landlords Association – the association works with Gateshead Council to run an accreditation scheme designed to maintain the quality of private rented accommodation;
- Humber Landlords Association South Bank – formed in 2008, the association now claims in the region of 500 members;
- Landlords’ Association for Northern Ireland – has represented landlords in the Province for more than 20 years;
- North Staffordshire Landlords Association – formed in 2000 and with a current membership of some 150 members in Staffordshire and Cheshire;
- North West Landlords Association – run by landlords for landlords, based in Bolton and with a current membership of some 450 landlords;
- North West Property Owners Association – based in Liverpool and providing a range of service to its membership of landlords;
- Portsmouth and District Private Landlords Association – also operates an accreditation scheme in conjunction with Portsmouth City Council;
- Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL) – supporting landlords throughout the whole of Scotland;
- Sheffield and District Landlord Association (SADLA) – a non-profit organisation representing landlords in the area;
- South West Landlords Association – based in Plymouth, but also has a growing membership base in and around Bristol;
- Southern Landlords Association (SLA) – has branches throughout southern England;
- Westcountry Landlords Association – is based in Plymouth and is supported by Plymouth City Council;
- York Residential Landlords Association – affiliated to the national RLA, the association enjoys the support of both City of York Council and the North Yorkshire Police.
Landlord associations play an important role in the ongoing development of private rented accommodation in the UK’s housing market by providing help and support to some 2 million buy to let landlords.
In addition to providing resources and services to individual members, however, landlords associations also play a role in promoting and representing the landlords’ case in both national and regional forums. As pressure groups and lobbyists, therefore, landlord associations help to influence decision makers at national and regional levels in addition to portraying the industry in a positive light – through the media – to members of the public.
Although the decision whether or not to join an association is of course a matter for the individual landlord, it seems clear that doing so is likely to provide continuing support for any type of landlord – be it the seasoned professional, newcomer or accidental landlord.
In addition to the leading national level associations, there is a large network of regional associations bringing together and supporting like-minded landlords. Many of these regional organisations enjoy the active support and endorsement of local authorities.