Most of the biggest private landlords in Wales are based in England, The National can reveal.

New data, obtained through Freedom of Information request, suggests that thousands of Welsh homes are owned by just a handful of landlords - many of which are based outside Wales.

The top three landlords own more than 2,000 properties in Wales between them.

Two of those landlords are based in central London, while the biggest landlord - with 781 properties registered to their name - is based just outside the English capital, in Hertfordshire.

The findings come after months of protest over the Welsh housing crisis, and will add to ongoing debate about who truly owns Wales.

The National Wales: A number of Wales's most prolific landlords are based in London's financial district.A number of Wales's most prolific landlords are based in London's financial district.

Housing rights activist Adam Watkins, who submitted the FOI request, said: “In discussions about Wales’s housing crisis, some have sought to represent the private rental sector as run by small businesses, or individuals investing for their retirement with perhaps one or two properties.

“These figures begin to show that many of our homes are in the control of companies, often outside Wales and sometimes outside the UK, who own tens - if not hundreds - of properties here.”

Since 2015, landlords with properties in Wales have been required to register with RentSmart Wales, a body charged with regulating the Welsh private rental sector.

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It is illegal to rent out a home here without registering, unless you pay for a letting agent to manage the property on your behalf.

Mr Watkins asked Cardiff Council - which holds the RentSmart Wales register for the entire country - to provide a list of the fifty biggest landlords in Wales, how many properties they own and where they are based.

Of the biggest ten landlords, five were based in England and owned 3,111 properties between them. One was based in Luxembourg, with 461 properties, and a landlord based in the Netherlands rented out 374 homes in Wales.

The remaining three landlords were based in Cardiff (two) and Wrexham, owning 1,154 properties between them.

Most English landlords listed were London-based, largely in Westminster and in the City of London borough - the capital’s financial district .

One landlord renting out 135 properties in Wales was based in the United Arab Emirates.

Adam Watkins believes that RentSmart Wales should routinely publish their landlord register in full, “so that we can begin to understand the influence of these companies over Welsh people’s lives, and exactly who is profiting from their need to have somewhere to live.”

Jeff Smith of Cymdeithas yr Iaith (“The Welsh Language Society”), a group which is currently campaigning on action to tackle the housing crisis under the banner “Nid yw Cymru ar Werth” (“Wales is not for sale”), said: “The main problem with the housing market is that property is treated as an asset and an opportunity to make a profit rather than a home, somewhere to live. 

The National Wales: A banner reading "Wales is not for sale" hung near the Senedd during a protest in 2021. (Picture: Rebecca Wilks)A banner reading "Wales is not for sale" hung near the Senedd during a protest in 2021. (Picture: Rebecca Wilks)

“Although house prices in Wales are high in comparison to local wages, generally, houses in Wales are cheaper and wages are lower than in England.

“It's clearly possible to take advantage of that, and obviously beneficial - some landlords have over 600 rented homes each.

“How can it be acceptable that one landlord can own more than 600 houses while some struggle to pay rent or buy their own home?

“Clearly, market intervention is needed.”

While tax hikes on holiday homes in Wales are welcome and needed, Mr Smith argues, the Welsh Government should not stop there.

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“A tax on landlords' profits could be introduced, and the money invested in restoring empty and second homes for local communities,” he said.

“This would also mean that more properties would be available - which would help bring prices down, making them affordable on local wages.”

Cymdeithas yr Iaith is calling for a new Property Act, which the society says would ensure community control over local housing markets.

The Act would introduce rent controls, limit the number of second or holiday homes within communities, make Welsh language planning mandatory in development decisions, and require local authorities to bring vacant homes back into use before new housing developments can move forward.

The National Wales: A housing crisis rally in Aberystwyth last month. (Picture: Huw Marshall)A housing crisis rally in Aberystwyth last month. (Picture: Huw Marshall)

 

Who owns Wales?

The question of who owns Welsh land, buildings and other assets - and who enjoys their profits - has become increasingly salient in recent months.

A recent report by the Institute for Welsh Affairs labelled communities in Wales “some of the least empowered on this island,” warning that locals are largely “locked out” of purchasing and/or controlling land and assets in their area.

“Despite conceptions in Welsh political circles of Wales as a ‘communitarian’ nation, communities in Wales have by far the fewest statutory rights in Great Britain in relation to land,” the report noted.

Second homes - some used as holiday rentals - account for a significant proportion of the housing stock in some parts of Wales. Eleven percent of the houses in Gwynedd, for example, are second homes, as are nine percent of the houses in Pembrokeshire’s Sir Benfro community.

The National Wales: The coast near Sir Benfro, Pembrokeshire. (Picture: Llewelyn2000)The coast near Sir Benfro, Pembrokeshire. (Picture: Llewelyn2000)

The issue has led to widespread protest, and from next year local authorities will be free to charge council tax premiums of up to 300 percent on second homes and long-term empty properties.

The Welsh Government is also currently pursuing devolution of Crown Estate assets - the British monarchy owns and controls the Welsh seabed out to 12 nautical miles, along with 50,000 acres of upland - and Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts introduced a Bill for this purpose to Parliament last year.

According to the Crown Estate's own records, its assets in Wales are currently valued at a total of £603million - a significant increase from just under £97m in 2019.

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At the same time, the Welsh Government has come under fire from both Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Conservatives over allegations that its Glastir Woodland Creation scheme, which offers funding for tree-planting, has been paying grants to large private companies who then convert Welsh farms into carbon offset forests.

Carbon offsetting refers to the idea that a business’s carbon emissions can be compensated for by planting trees, which, when mature, will begin removing carbon from the atmosphere.

One such grant recipient was Foresight Group, an £8.1billion private equity firm.

American investment management company Blackrock, which has been repeatedly accused of greenwashing its $85billion in coal industry holdings, is a Foresight Group investor.

The National Wales: One landlord based in Luxembourg owns 461 Welsh properties. (Picture: Frans Berkelaar)One landlord based in Luxembourg owns 461 Welsh properties. (Picture: Frans Berkelaar)

The Welsh Government response

The National approached the Welsh Government’s Climate Change department - which is responsible for housing - with the RentSmart Wales data released by Cardiff Council.

We asked whether it was concerned that so many privately rented homes in Wales are owned by landlords based outside the country, and that so many Welsh properties are concentrated in so few hands.

If the the government did consider the figures a concern, we asked, how would it intend to tackle the situation?  

A Welsh Government spokesperson responded: “Through Rent Smart Wales, we provide advice on renting out safe and healthy homes for tenants in Wales and support landlords in complying with obligations.

“Landlords and agents who undertake letting and management work at rental properties are also required to have a Rent Smart Wales licence, conditions of which include ensuring robust management arrangements are in place.

“Where robust management arrangements or frequent routine visits cannot be fulfilled by the licensee, a licensed agent must be appointed to act on their behalf.”

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