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Labour MPs Are Impatient For Michael Gove's Rental Reforms

Lisa Nandy said the Government should stop arguing with Tory MPs and push the Renters Reform Bill through the Commons (Alamy)

6 min read

Senior Labour MPs have urged Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove to push through the Renters’ Reform Bill despite a backlash from Tory backbenchers.

A number of Tory MPs say they are concerned the Bill, which seeks to give new rights and protections to renters, could "exacerbate" the housing crisis which has pushed an increasing number of people into the private rental market. They believe the proposals could make it more difficult to rent out properties and lead to an exodus of landlords from the market, which some Tories say they fear would shoot up prices and "open the door" for policies such as rent control. 

Around 30 Conservative MPs have "issues with the Bill" and are particularly concerned with the proposal to scrap Section 21, which would ban no-fault evictions, according to the i

A commitment to reform the rental sector, which was proposed by former prime minister Theresa May in April 2019, was backed by her successor Boris Johnson. In the Conservative Party 2019 manifesto, the Tories promised to create a "fairer rental sector" by abolishing no-fault evictions. 

It took the government three years to write up a white paper titled A Fairer Private Rented Sector, which proposed to abolish no-fault evictions, crackdown on “criminal landlords” and stop landlords from putting rents up more than once a year. However, the government has delayed bringing forward the bill that would cement the commitments into law due to mounting concerns from Tory back benchers.  

Shadow Levelling-up Secretary Lisa Nandy, Labour's MP for Wigan, told PoliticsHome the government should stop arguing with Tory MPs and push the legislation through Parliament. “Labour has promised that we will produce a plan to make renting fairer, more secure and more affordable within the first 100 days of being elected into government,” she said. 

“Our Renters’ Charter will scrap no-fault evictions, introduce a four-month notice period for landlords, a national register of landlords, and a suite of new rights for tenants – including the right to make alterations to your home, the right to request speedy repairs, and the right to have pets.”

While there is speculation the Renters Reform Bill could land in Parliament very soon, a Downing Street spokesperson is yet to confirm a timetable. 

According to government figures, those aged 16 to 34 made up 43.5 per cent of renters in the market. Meanwhile, fewer than 10 per cent of retirees are private renters. Over the past year the average rent in England has increased by 4.6 per cent, while in London that figure is 4.8 per cent, according to the ONS. But there is concern among Tory MPs that if changes in the Renters Reform Bill result in a reduction of the number of landlords by making the rental market less appealing, average rental prices could increase even further. 

Labour MPs are becoming increasingly frustrated with government inaction over the bill, with Shadow Housing Minister Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, questioning whether the Conservatives were in the process of "making panicked concessions". 

Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, who holds a shadow Cabinet Office brief, told PoliticsHome the current rental system was “skewed against renters”. She said the delays to the Renters Reform Bill which has been promised for “such a long time” was “an absolute blow”.

“[High rents] are one of the biggest issues for my constituents. There is an imbalance in the system, so many people are finding it difficult. Landlords are using many excuses to put up the rent.”

Anderson was keen for the Renters Reform Bill to scrap Section 21, which allows landlords to remove tenants without proving any fault. Under the new proposals, a tenancy would instead finish if the landlord had a "valid ground for possession" or the renters ended it, a measure intended to empower tenants and challenge “poor practice”.

Parliament is currently overstretched and working around the clock to scrutinise swathes of new legislation. Multiple amendments and newer bills, including those on small boats and Brexit, have contributed to “everything getting incredibly behind,” one peer told PoliticsHome.

Shadow Minister for Homelessness and Rough Sleeping, Paula Barker, MP for Liverpool Wavertree has called for emergency legislation to be brought forward to scrap Section 21. Barker told PoliticsHome a future Labour government would push the Bill through and rip up Section 21 if the Tories could not do it in this Parliament. 

“The government keeps saying it is going to end Section 21 notices by this Parliament. You are the government, you are in charge of parliamentary time, there is no excuse. Genuine willingness to end section 21 they could bring it as a matter of urgency the Labour party would support it,” Barker told PoliticsHome.

Priced Out, a campaign group for affordable housing, told PoliticsHome it wanted a “fairer deal for private renters”, but this should be done by boosting supply.

“The best way to ensure that renters get a fair deal is to expand supply, bringing competition back to the rental market. Whilst we are stuck with such constrained supply, however, we should make sure that renters are protected from unscrupulous landlords and unsafe living conditions,” Freddie Poser, Director of PricedOut told PoliticsHome.

Conservative MP David Jones is among those with concerns about the legislation. He told PoliticsHome the Renters Reform Bill may look beneficial but the “reality could mean fewer houses on the market”.

“If the market is smaller, there is a strong possibility that rents will go up. Obviously it’s a question of supply and demand, if there are fewer to let the asking price will go up. And it’s another worry that the Renters Reform Bill could open the door for campaigns such as rent control,” he told PoliticsHome.

Marco Longhi, Conservative MP for Dudley North, who is a landlord, said the legislation in its current form would "exacerbate" the housing crisis. 

"The removal of S21 is well intended, without a doubt: the ability for ‘rogue landlords’ to remove, or even threaten removal of tenants through S21 for merely asking for repairs that landlords are responsible to carry out is clearly an abuse of S21 and is wrong," he told PoliticsHome

"But more regulation (Renters Reform Bill) that will impact the whole sector, to deal with a problem that affects a very small part of the sector is wrong. It’s a 'one size fits all' way."

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