As a new session of Parliament begins, the government has renewed its commitment to create a fairer rental market. As well as plans to abolish Section 21 no-fault evictions - first announced in 2019, the latest version of the Renters Reform Bill looks likely to introduce a landlord register.
Deputising for his mum this year, Prince Charles delivered the Queen's Speech and promised "legislation to improve the regulation of social housing, to strengthen the rights of tenants and ensure better quality, safer homes". In the detailed documents published this afternoon the government fleshed out what this means:
- "Abolishing so-called ‘no fault’ evictions by removing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988". Right now landlords don't need a reason to evict tenants, who get just two months to find a new home. Unscrupulous landlords can use this power to avoid making repairs or to force up rents. Done right, this change will give renters more certainty over their home and prompt improvements in the quality of private rented homes - one of the government's "levelling up" missions.
- "Reforming possession grounds for landlords, introducing new and stronger grounds for repeated incidences of rent arrears and reducing notice periods for anti-social behaviour". Alongside Section 21 abolition the government wants to make sure that landlords with a legitimate reason for eviction can get their properties back. We're concerned that this means more renters who get behind on rent will be made homeless without a chance to resolve their arrears, so any new process has to be fair. Similarly, where landlords wish to sell or move into the property, we believe they should cover the tenant's costs of finding a new home - £1400 on average, according to the government.
- "Applying the legally binding Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector for the first time ever". This would bring standards in the private rented sector into line with the social sector, and stop landlords profiting - often at the taxpayer's expense - from poor quality homes. There are still big questions over how this will be enforced - especially when councils lack the resources to enforce existing standards.
- "Introduce a new Ombudsman for private landlords so that disputes can easily be resolved without the need to go to court". This is a big gap in renters' rights - letting agents must be members of a redress scheme already. But it is important that any new scheme is designed properly so that renters get a fair hearing, compensation for mistreatment is adequate and that it deters landlords from ripping off tenants in the first place.
- "Introducing a new property portal to help landlords understand their obligations, give tenants performance information to hold their landlord to account as well as aiding local authorities." This sounds very much like the landlord registration schemes that exist in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - without calling it landlord registration. We like the sound of "performance information" - we have been campaigning for a landlord register that contains extra information about the property so tenants can make better decisions. This could include energy efficiency, gas and electrical safety, and information about a landlord's compliance record.
Back in 2019, the government was elected on a manifesto that promised Section 21 abolition - but also changes to the deposit protection system and a "Lifetime Deposit". Nothing on deposits in today's speech, but we will be working hard to make sure the Bill does as much to improve renting as possible.
This is the third Queens Speech to promise a better deal for renters - the first in December 2019, the second a year ago. So we are painfully aware that words only count for so much. What we need is the White Paper, which will flesh out the above policies, and then the Bill itself.
We need to keep pushing it every step of the way and we know that we can't rest until both Houses of Parliament have done what they need to change the law.
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