Decent landlady subjected to ‘vengeful’ online hate campaign.

A landlady who appeared in the Guardian newspaper to explain why she was leaving the BTL market has been persecuted by a torrent of vengeful online abuse.

Vanessa Lafaye told the Guardian’s Money section about the investment flat she bought in 2004 for £155,000, off Oxford’s Cowley Road, and how she entered into the business of being a ‘virgin landlady’ with great optimism and enthusiasm.

Thirteen years later she decided to sell, ‘despite the fact that the flat rents like a dream thanks to its location, its loveliness and Oxford’s insatiable appetite for rental property.’

The article attracted a barrage of criticism from angry commentators who slammed landlords for 'taking somebody's hard earned cash week after week' and called the BTL sector 'highway robbery' which sees property owners 'lining their pockets with the fruits of other's labour'.

One commentator wrote: "She bought a house, got someone else to pay for it, and made a profit on its sale. Buy to let is one way of describing this: buy to exploit would be another.

"Another wrote: "The issue is the huge numbers driven to rent by this generation who used unearned income derived from government policy driven house prices rises to drain the life chances of younger people such that they can't access secure accommodation either buying or renting, that we all need to start a family."

Meanwhile, other contributors offered a different view, with one writer remarking of the anti-landlord outbursts: "The same boring comments from envious people blaming landlords when it has been shameful neglect from successive governments not building houses that has caused this huge market imbalance."

In the article Vanessa recounts how she was ‘rewarded with good, reliable tenants and only a few major disasters during the course of the past 13 years’ – learning landlady lessons along the way (it is necessary to call in on your tenants regularly; document everything, including all conversations, with a follow-up email; buy the insurance, for everything; d tenants are worth more than a rent increase).

However, her life changed: she moved to Wiltshire and is now a novelist, and her health has declined dramatically so she is unable to drive, making it ‘difficult to pop up to Oxford’.

She also cites the ‘uncertainty, instability and general economic dampening effects’ of Brexit, as well as the ‘increase in legislation and costs in the private rental sector’, concluding that as a private landlord with only one investment property, ‘it’s simply too onerous’.

Vanessa wrote: “It feels like the right time to get out. The flat has sold for close to the asking price, producing a good profit after tax, better than I had ever hoped or expected – thanks to it being a desirable property in a good location, with a healthy, stable housing market.”

This week Money editor Patrick Collinson said the story ‘attracted a vast amount of abuse from people who posted comments online’.

“But it went beyond that,” he wrote, “with the author hunted down on Facebook and subject to nasty postings. On Google, her health status was identified, then shared online. One person even went so far as to make up fake one-star reviews of her book on Amazon. The site has removed the offending reviews.

“It shouldn’t even be necessary to say that there are good landlords and there are rogue ones. Just like there are good tenants and obnoxious ones.

“By all means, let’s root out rogue landlords, and the trailblazing work done by Newham council in east London should be followed by local authorities around the country.”

Collinson rightly points out that BTL has been ‘probably the best thing anybody could have done with their money since 1997 with gains averaging more than 1,400 per cent since then.’

In his latest article he traces why BTL has grown so rapidly in the UK: the 1996 Housing Act revised the assured shorthold tenancy, allowing banks and building societies to enter the market and creating the BTL mortgage.

Banks relaxed their lending criteria, offering jumbo-sized loans and interest-only deals to keep repayments cheap.

The decline of social housing, low levels of private home construction, a loss of confidence in personal pensions, low interest rates and the huge increase in net inward migration after 1997, created the ‘near-perfect conditions for an explosion in the private rented sector’.

While Collinson supports tax hikes on BTL and changes to lending criteria to ‘take the steam out of the market’ he blasts ‘the sort of vengeful ad hominem attack on a decent landlord we saw last week.’

Meanwhile Ms Lafaye must take some consolation from her investment as she embarks upon a new career as a novelist, with her second novel, At First Light, now published by Orion.

She wrote: “My husband and I will combine our capital gains allowances of £11,000 each. Whatever we net will go partly to reduce the mortgage on our own house and the rest will be invested. However, when looking at the total picture since I bought the flat, the rent barely covered the running costs.

“Was it worth it? There’s no doubt that it was a good investment. Nothing else could have generated a similar return. I don’t regret being a landlord for 13 years, but it’s time to move on to a new challenge: being a successful novelist.”