Labour is plotting the greatest assault on property rights in living memory

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with deputy leader Angela Rayner and Claire Ward Labour candidate for East Midlands mayor during a visit to a housing development in the Nightingale Quarter of Derby
Keir Starmer tabled a Renters Reform Bill amendment to ban landlords selling property in the first two years of a new tenancy. - Joe Giddens/PA

Labour has come a long way since Jeremy Corbyn called for the requisition of empty luxury homes to rehouse the victims of the Grenfell fire, and suggested extending “right to buy” to tenants of private landlords – a policy that would, in essence, have forced property owners to sell at a discount.

But the party’s attitude towards property rights still poses a clear and present danger to homeowners, the housing market and the wider UK economy.

The Opposition last week tabled an amendment to the Renters Reform Bill that would have banned landlords from selling their properties in the first two years of a new tenancy.

It isn’t clear what problem this would solve: should a house be sold before the rental contract has expired, tenants’ rights are protected by law and cannot be curtailed by the landlord who purchases the property.

If the contract has ended, landlords can issue a Section 21 offering two months’ notice, as they would if they wanted to walk away from the agreement under other circumstances. No wonder property owners are plunging to new depths of despair.

In a country that refuses to build any new homes despite soaring demand, the war on landlords is only going to get worse. Successive Conservative governments have already treated them like a punchbag, presumably because adopting the Left’s language and subjecting them to ever-increasing regulation of punitive taxation is easier than tackling the root causes of our housing shortage.

There are now over 170 pieces of legislation to which landlords must comply, including strict local authority licensing requirements, a responsibility to check if tenants have the right to rent a property and rules on protecting tenants deposits in a government-approved scheme.

And last year, the introduction of Section 24 restricted the ability of unincorporated landlords to deduct mortgage interest and other finance costs (such as mortgage arrangement fees) against their rental income for tax purposes.

But what little control these property owners have retained will be eroded further by an incoming Labour government. The Opposition has made no secret of its intention to ban so-called “no fault evictions”, though the idea that landlords should have the right to reclaim their property after an agreed period of time is hardly controversial. And who will resist, considering so many politicians seem to believe the line peddled by campaigners that landlords are evicting good tenants on a whim before their contract has expired?

But the assault on property rights under Labour won’t stop there. In Wales, which offers a glimpse into our future, a Labour administration has handed councils powers to charge up to 300pc council tax or force second homeowners to rent their properties for half the year.

The Labour Mayor of London has consistently demanded rent controls across the capital. And Keir Starmer’s party is committed to scrapping the leasehold system which allows more people to get onto the property ladder, while the Right to Buy discount will be slashed.

A wealth tax, for all the protestations, should not be ruled out: not even Labour politicians can believe their many spending pledges will be met just by closing non-dom loopholes and slapping VAT on private school fees.

None of these policies will work, of course. Rent controls north of the border substantially worsened Edinburgh’s housing crisis. The Tory assault on landlords has pushed thousands into selling up as fewer enter the market, lowering the stock available to renters.

But it is the broader shift – away from the position that private property rights ought to be protected at all costs, towards one where the state can do as it chooses with what we own – that is most terrifying.

Property rights, along with the rule of law, are the foundation of our prosperity, yet Britain is now doggedly chipping away at them.

The situation is bad under the Tories; under Labour it will be calamitous, even without Corbyn in charge.