Opinion Regulation

Wink Wink. Nudge Nudge.

David Rutland
Written by David Rutland

Landlords are being slowly but surely nudged out of the industry. What’s going on?

Behavioural science is a manipulative field. Practitioners observe and theorise on people’s motives and actions to predict how they will react to certain inputs. How they will think. How their attitudes will change.

Naturally, the machinery of government has taken a great interest in this field, and have their own experts on staff in the corridors of power.

It works, and nudge campaigns based in behavioural science have been deployed successfully to make unpopular behaviours almost compulsory, and once-popular pastimes become reviled.

The campaigns work by giving frequent small reminders that something is not in your own or society’s best interest. They make it easy to choose ‘correctly’ by making the ‘wrong’ choice more difficult.

By putting minor obstacles in the way. By reminding you that you’re about to do something which society considers wrong.

The successes of the Home Office’s Behavioural Insight Team, informally known as ‘The Nudge Unit,’ have been astounding. Tests across the country have resulted in safer driving, lower intake of sugary food and drinks, increased educational achievement. In the US, Silicon Valley bosses used nudges to improve the productivity of workers.

A nudge in the right place, or even a series of nudges, can produce the required results without needing any unpopular legislation up front. Once the the value of normal has changed, laws can be put in place to codify it.

Critics argue that nudging is incompatible with the rule of law. That it diminishes autonomy, threatens dignity, violates liberties. None of those concerns prevented the theory originator, Richard Thaler from taking the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics.

There’s been something weird going on with the renting industry in recent years. Small things, which on their own are not quite insignificant, but which make establishing and running a property empire that little bit more difficult.

There is no national legislation dictating how often landlords need to have gas safety certificates issued for their properties, but an increasing number of local authorities are mandating yearly inspections.

Nudge

Removing tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages could potentially push thousands of buy-to-let properties into unprofitability.

Nudge

Compulsory Private Landlord Registration

Nudge

Annual property licensing for each individual rented property in Liverpool (at a cost of £400 per property)

Nudge

The barrier to entry is certainly getting higher, and the cost of doing business is growing. We’d be incredibly surprised if the nudges didn’t push a significant proportion of private landlords out of the industry, and deter others from getting started.

But why? Are private landlords truly so detrimental society that opting out of the game is the moral choice and good for society? What’s the eventual endgame here? Who will benefit if all these little nudges and reminders actually bear fruit? And they will. Nudge theory works. Just wait and see.

David Rutland is the resident conspiracy theorist at rent.works.

About the author

David Rutland

David Rutland

With a decades long career as a professional writer, David Rutland has worked as a journalist on local, national, and international newspapers, before embarking as a career as a freelancer.

He has ghostwritten several books, as well as producing travel guides, manuals, humour articles, and more internet blogs than you can shake a stick at.

David maintains offices in East London, but spends most of his time in a shed near Liverpool, where he writes, as well as developing apps for Android.

What people say about him:

Arrogant and abrasive - Alan Davis, Editor in Chief North Wales News Group

An absolute liability - Matt Simms, Editor, Vale advertiser

Are you sure this won't get us all arrested? - Mohana Prabhakar, Editor in Chief, Apex News Group

Go and have a shave. You're all prickly - Mrs Donna Rutland.

3 Comments

  • Of course they are pushing the little people out of the rental sector. First of all, they don’t like ordinary people taking money out of the stock market and investing it themselves. No fees and a slice of the pie times however many people do it. Not profitable. Next, it has been decided that the housing stock is to be taken into corporate hands seeing as everything else has been sold off and privatised. Large financial institutions will become the nation’s largest landlords. Which is where it all ties together: why move your money out of the markets and into individual properties when you can invest in the new landlord fund? A fixed rate of return with them skimming off the excess, complete with all the usual fees and bonuses for the managers of course.

    Just my opinion, like.

  • Yes! This, all of this- well done at identifying and articulating the ongoing trend.

    So what is the end game? As the previous commenter hinted at, is it a gentle push towards the idea of corporate ownership of housing stock?

    When we look at the nudges they always seem to demonise the private btl landlord but not always landlord ltd and rarely Landlord Corp.

    The big question for me is: if this is inevitable- what are the best steps for a landlord to take today to best protect their future income?

  • Introduction of compulsory electrical testing, mains powered fire alarms, fire alarms all interconnected. Can the same requirement for carbon monoxide detectors be far behind?

    The end for us is the new tenant protections introduced at the end of 2017. Probably wouldn’t have new tenants now. There’s a real shortage of decent rental properties in our area. In seven years we’ve never had a week unlet.

Leave a Comment