New space standards threaten Build to Rent sector

Many renters are already feeling a squeeze on their budgets, and well-meaning politicians want to make sure they aren’t squeezed on space as well. Under new measures designed to target ‘rogue’ landlords, the government is proposing a mandatory standard of 70 sq. ft. for rooms and a wider licensing of rental properties.

However, industry experts are concerned that these measures are based on outdated perceptions of the rental sector, and could ultimately harm the renters they seek to protect and hamper the flourishing Build to Rent sector. According to Julian Goddard, head of residential at Daniel Watney LLP, the regulations would damage renters willing to compromise on space in order to save money.

“While well intentioned, these minimum space requirements for the rental market will do little to help people looking for cheaper options to live, especially in ultra-competitive locations like London,” said Watney. “They also fail to recognise the huge shifts in technology that mean we are increasingly ‘asset lite’.

“From streaming music on Spotify to watching films on Netflix, people – especially the younger generations who see more likely to rent – are owning less and less physical copies and relying more and more on digital services, reducing the need for storage space. Housing policy should be made for the future, not the past.”

Dominic Martin, head of operations and strategy at Westrock, said it was important for the government to recognise the different offerings between buy-to-let and build-to-rent. “It’s important when considering space requirements that the government recognises the difference between traditional buy-to-let market and the new ‘amenity and service lead’ build to rent sector,” he said. “This one size all approach just doesn’t work and doesn’t reflect this new and better offer to renters.

“Our initial schemes have been office-to-residential conversions, and while the unit sizes are smaller than a conventional new build, this means we have been able to deliver more much needed homes for private rent. As a counter however, this is compensated by the provision of quality amenity space and a greater investment in smart technology like underfloor heating, as well as onsite staff offering a new customer focused service.”

Currently the suggested regulations are only targeted at houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the buy-to-let market. There is growing concern that if the proposed measures are applied to new PRS schemes, it is the tenants who will ultimately pay the price for reduced stock and higher rents.

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