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Renters Reform Bill Could Water Down Efforts To Abolish Fixed Term Tenancies

(Alamy)

4 min read

Efforts to abolish fixed term tenancies in the Renters' Reform Bill could be weakened by proposed Government amendments after pressure from backbench Tory rebels opposed to the reform.

The Renters' Reform Bill originally promised to abolish fixed term tenancy agreements and replace them with rolling contracts otherwise known as periodic tenancies. 

Draft amendments seen by PoliticsHome suggest private renters in new tenancies could be faced with signing an initial four-month contract with their landlord. Added to this they may have to give their landlord two-months’ notice before they can leave the property without paying rent. Housing campaigners are concerned this could amount to fixed term contracts by stealth by locking renters into a rental home for up to six months. 

Tom Darling, Campaign Manager for Renters' Reform Coalition, said he believed it was “disgraceful” that Government was considering further concessions to landlords on this legislation.

“The proposal to introduce a six-month minimum commitment would strip renters of one of the few powers they have – the ability to vote with their feet – and would inevitably see people trapped in substandard and dangerous tenancies unfit for habitation,” he said.

“We need to be driving up standards in rented homes, but incredibly this change would actually encourage rogue landlords to continue neglecting faulty properties. It would be a step backwards for renters’ rights.”

The Renters Reform Bill was first introduced in May and has been very controversial with many Tory backbenchers. The FT reported it had been stuck in the Whips’ Office after its first reading because of “vested interest” within the Conservative Party.

The Bill received its second reading in September. PoliticsHome understands there are around 60 Tory MPs, many of whom are landlords, who have raised concerns about the legislation in private.

Michael Gove, the Levelling-up Secretary, has been very keen on the Bill and has had the backing of Downing Street for some time. There are concerns from supporters of the Bill that this could change if another row about the legislation opened up again.

One rebel Tory MP said they “hoped” the emergence of draft amendments was proof the government was considering rowing back on the Bill. 

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, believed Government was “being cowed into reintroducing fixed-term tenancies by the back door” after it promised to abolish them almost five years ago.  

“We know renters want to stay in their homes for longer. Most only leave a tenancy early when their circumstances change or when a property turns out to be grim and unliveable. So why are the government trapping renters in hellish conditions just to appease a small minority of landlords on their own backbenches?” she said.

“There is still time to pass a Bill that makes renting safer and fairer, but caving to these absurd demands will be an overt betrayal of England’s 11 million private renters. The government must show its mettle and oppose attempts to water down the Renters (Reform) Bill into insignificance.” 

Another controversial element of the Bill was to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which would prevent any landlord from evicting a tenant for no reason.

Housing activists are concerned the new amendment will water down a key part of the Bill. However, the Government has denied this and said it will abolish Section 21 evictions.

The BBC reported on Wednesday a series of amendments were being sent and read in WhatsApp groups with Conservative rebels.

One Tory MP told the BBC they believed the Government had reached an agreement with the rebels on almost all of their concerns.

A DLUHC spokesperson said the Government’s landmark Renters’ Reform Bill will deliver an improved private rented sector for both tenants and landlords.

“It will abolish section 21 evictions – giving people more security in their homes and empowering them to challenge poor practices,” they said.

“We continue to meet regularly with a range of groups, representing all those in the private rented sector."

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