How Government Hopes To Overhaul Renters' Rights
The Renters Reform Bill will scrap “no fault evictions” and allow tenants to request pets (Alamy)
6 min read
Government has announced a “once in a generation” Renters' Reform Bill which they say will revolutionise the private rental market. In recent years the sector has been inundated with people paying high prices on precarious contracts as a result of the housing crisis.
In particular, The Renters' Reform Bill, aims to regulate landlords more heavily, scrap “no fault evictions”, end fixed term tenancies, allow tenants to keep pets and create a new industry-wide Ombudsman.
The proposals add to a number of measures introduced by government to regulate the private rental sector over the last seven years. Through the Housing and Planning Act, the Conservatives gave councils more power to drive out “criminal landlords”, while under the Tenant Fees Act 2019, measures were introduced to control how much landlords can charge in holding and tenancy deposits.
Labour has criticised the Tories after successive governments have delayed bringing the Renters' Reform Bill forward. Meanwhile, a handful of Conservative backbenchers are concerned about the new proposals, arguing they could drive landlords out of the market and lead to fewer houses being available for rent.
What is the Renters Reform Bill?
A commitment to reform the private rented sector was proposed by former prime minister Theresa May in April 2019. Her successor, Boris Johnson, backed the proposals and put them in the Conservative Party’s manifesto in 2019. At the last election, the Conservatives promised to abolish no-fault evictions, which means a landlord can give a tenant notice to leave or decide not to renew a tenancy for no reason.
Last year Government produced a white paper titled A Fairer Private Rented Sector, which contained a 12-point plan to drive improvements in the rental market.
It proposed halving the number of non-decent homes by 2030, abolishing no-fault evictions, giving landlords more powers to evict anti-social tenants, prohibiting landlords from hiking rent more than once a year, clamping down on criminal landlords, setting up an Ombudsman and giving tenants the right to request a pet.
After four years of discussions and delays, the white paper has been drafted into formal legislation as the Renters' Reform Bill. MPs and Lords will debate and potentially amend the measures, before they are passed into law.
Tenants shouldn't be kicked out on a whim
A central part of the Renters' Reform Bill is revising Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. The clause has previously given landlords the power to kick out tenants and regain and repossess their property without stating a reason.
Without Section 21, landlords will not be able to remove tenants from a home without justification. The only exceptions will be if the landlord and tenant have signed a specific agreement, or if landlords use Section 8 if the tenant has stopped paying rent or damaged the property.
A new industry regular would protect tenants' rights
An Ombudsman will be set up to protect the rights of tenants. Landlords will be forced to sign up to the new legal body, which in circumstances will force them to issue an apology and pay compensation of up to £30,000.
Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, welcomed the new mandatory ombudsman.
“Crucially, it won’t be voluntary, all private landlords will be required to join the Ombudsman, and it will have legal authority to compel apologies,” he said.
Tenants would have the right to keep pets in a rented property
Under the new Bill, tenants can request a pet at their rented property and it cannot be "unreasonably refused" by a landlord. According to the proposals, it is reasonable for a landlord to refuse a tenant from having a pet if it would mean a landlord was in breach of another contract – for example if they owned a flat in a building that didn't allow pets.
Research found most renters either own or want to bring a pet into their rented flat, according to property website Zoopla. However, data shows fewer than ten per cent of tenants have a pet with them in their rented accomodation.
Michael Webb, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Battersea, the charity caring for dogs and cats, called for a “fairer rental sector for pets and people” since 2018.
“Not only will the long-overdue introduction of this Bill to Parliament bring us one step closer to opening up the many joys of pet ownership to millions of renters, it could dramatically reduce the number of dogs and cats we see being needlessly separated from their owners due to widespread restrictive pet policies,” he said.
Who is supportive of the government's rental reforms?
The Bill has support from across the political spectrum, from pro-housing Tories such as Simon Clarke to opposition MPs.
While Labour has broadly welcomed the Renters’ Reform Bill, the party said it was “long overdue”. Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary for Levelling-up, MP for Wigan, said Britain’s rented sector currently resembled the “Wild West”.
Nandy and opposition MPs are keen for the legislation to be bolder, and said Labour would go further to reform renters' rights.
“We will also introduce a four-month notice period for landlords, a national register of landlords, and a host of new rights for tenants – including the right to make alterations to your home, to request speedy repairs, and to have pets,” she added.
The rental reforms also have some detractors
Ripping up Section 21, which would outlaw no-fault evictions, has caused some consternation on the Tory backbenches. Around 30 Conservative MPs have "issues with the Bill" and are concerned with that proposal in particular, according to the i.
One senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome a lot of backbenchers were unhappy with section 21 but could not judge whether there would be a sizeable rebellion.
Marco Longhi, MP for Dudley North, who is a landlord, said when Section 21 is scrapped landlords could choose to “invest in other, fairer, safer and less hostile environments”.
Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, argued “responsible landlords” needed to be confident they can repossess their properties, otherwise it will exacerbate the housing crisis.
“Whilst we welcome the government’s pledge to ensure landlords can effectively recover properties from anti-social tenants and those failing to pay rent, more detail is needed if the Bill is going to work as intended,” he said.
Matthew Lesh, Director of Public Policy at the IEA, argued making it harder to evict residents will “only likely to make it harder to rent.”
“The housing crisis won’t be solved by fiddling with rental rules. Britain needs fundamental planning reform to allow more homes to be built where people want to live – anything else will continue to see renters offered poorer quality homes at too high prices,” he said.
Will it pass through Parliament in time to get into law?
There are concerns the Renters' Reform Bill will not be pass through Parliament by the time of the next General Election, which is expected to take place before the end of 2024. If this were the case, the legislation would fall and measure would not come into effect.
Amendments to legislation, plus several other new pieces of legislation making their way through parliament include those on immigration and Brexit, have contributed to “everything getting incredibly behind,” one peer told PoliticsHome. “There is a growing backlog, and in a sense it’s inevitable,” Lord Don Foster of Bath said.
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