No-fault evictions must be scrapped to protect renters amid coronavirus
We must also look at other ways of improving the private rented sector, including better standards, properly funded enforcement, longer tenancies, a register of private landlords and rent controls, writes Tulip Siddiq MP.
It may seem tragic that it takes an epidemic to fix inequalities in the rented sector, but we should seize these opportunities and act now
The coronavirus pandemic is a huge challenge for all of us and it has shone a light on groups in our society who are living precariously. One such group is low income private renters. Indeed, as I see first hand at my surgeries, the most vulnerable individuals are often private renters who face additional struggles as a result of problems with their accommodation or their landlords.
Over the last decade, private rents have grown more than twice as fast as earnings. In London, an average private rent is now an astonishing £4,500 more than in 2010. The result is that 30% of tenants now struggle to pay rent. Over a quarter of London renters spend more than half of their wages on rent. And one in three older renters live in poverty after paying rent.
This is obviously a huge challenge for working families at the best of times, but the impact of coronavirus could be devastating. Statutory Sick Pay of £94.25 won’t come close to covering the cost of rent for most tenants in London. A shocking 63% of private renters have no savings at all, so the loss of a job or income as a result of the virus could mean many thousands are unable to pay rent. Renters will not be able to self-isolate if they do not have security in their homes.
Just as some banks have introduced mortgage ‘holidays’ for landlords, it is incumbent on the Government to protect renters by giving the option to defer rent payments. The ending of private sector tenancies has become the main single cause of homelessness. With around 60% of renting families just one paycheque away from losing their home, the Government must ensure that people aren’t being forced onto the streets as a result of coronavirus.
However, private renters need more than just protection from this pandemic. Around 5 million people in the UK now rent privately, up from 2.8 million in 2007, and we know that one in four privately rented homes are classed as ‘non-decent’. That means an estimated 680,000 children living in housing that is either damp, dangerous or lacking basic facilities. In Hampstead and Kilburn, where private renters account for over 30% of the population, I have heard so many heart-breaking stories about appalling conditions in private housing and the disgraceful way that some tenants are treated.
Whilst there are undoubtedly good landlords, far too many exploit the lack of protections for tenants to avoid their responsibilities. The private rented sector has the worst housing conditions of any tenure, and tenants have very few enforceable rights to change this. They can turn to their council for enforcement, but Conservative cuts to council budgets have severely limited their ability to do this. Thanks to my Labour colleague Karen Buck MP, who pushed the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill through Parliament in 2019, renters can also take their landlord to court if their housing is not up to standard.
However, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is the Sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of all private renters. It means that landlords can evict a tenant at any point with just two months’ notice in most cases. As someone who runs a soup kitchen in my constituency pointed out, many of the private tenants they serve ‘suffer ill health from living in damp rooms’ yet are ‘fearful to report their landlord’. That’s because they know that, if they do, they can and likely will be evicted long before any local authority enforcement or legal action takes place. It is this same fear of ‘no-fault eviction’ that stops tenants enforcing their right to challenge unfair rent rises.
So we must scrap Section 21 and outlaw all ‘no-fault evictions’ urgently. The Tories promised to do this almost a year ago, but it’s still not happened. We must also look at other ways of improving the private rented sector, including better standards, properly funded enforcement, longer tenancies, a register of private landlords and rent controls.
These are not new ideas or new concerns but they are concerns lent greater urgency because of the economic and social crisis we are facing. It may seem tragic that it takes an epidemic like coronavirus to fix these inequalities but if there are opportunities in this situation to improve the plight of the low income private rented sector, we should seize them and act now.