Right to buy: why not extend it to private landlords too?

Buy to let investor © Getty Images
Will buy-to-let investors have another thing to worry about with right to buy?

Just before the election, I wrote that extending the ‘right to buy’ to the housing association sector was the worst policy of the campaign. I added that, given the dismal policies being suggested elsewhere, that was really saying something.

With the election won, I assumed the Conservatives would quietly ditch the idea and get on with finding a way to bring house prices down, rather than coming up with more ways to prop them up.

Sadly, it isn’t so.

The Tories appear determined to press ahead with the policy despite the warnings from almost everyone that it will do nothing to raise the supply of homes and everything to create a “buy-to-let bonanza” for those who get to buy their houses at a discount. It will, as Rowan Moore puts it in the Guardian, “segregate cities, fuel house price inflation and increase the number of homes that are used as units of speculation”.

It will also do something worse – make all tenants feel hard done by. When I wrote about this before the election, I pointed out that if it makes sense to force the housing associations (who are private, not state landlords) to sell at a discount, why does it not make sense to force all private landlords sell up on the cheap?

“If I was a buy-to-let investor letting to anyone getting Housing Benefit, I might start worrying about how long it is until I am forced to rent to them at a discount to the market price,” I wrote at the time.

That conversation has begun. A letter in the FT today from a Mr Peter Cave puts the case: “If property ownership merits such high priority,” he says, “why does the government not grant a right to buy against all those who have ‘bought to let?'”

The private tenants of buy-to-let investors have “little security of tenure, little control over rent increases and have no share of the property value. If we must think in terms of property ownership then if anyone deserves the right to buy at a discount it is those tenants – or at the very least they deserve the right to share in the property’s increase in value. What is sauce for the tenant goose should also be sauce for the private tenant gander.”

Something new for buy-to-let investors who have stopped worrying about rent controls, rising interest rates and second home taxes to think about. Or perhaps to petition the government on.