England: White paper published into ‘fairer’ private rented sector
The UK Government has released the full details of its Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper, which it said is designed to redress the balance between landlords and 4.4 million private rented tenants.
Under the proposals, which will form the basis of a Bill to put its reforms into law, Section 21 evictions will be banned and the Decent Homes Standard will be expanded to the private rented sector.
It will also end what it calls “arbitrary rent review clauses, give tenants stronger powers to challenge poor practice, unjustified rent increases and enable them to be repaid rent for non-decent homes”.
It will be illegal for landlords or agents to have blanket bans on renting to families with children or those in receipt of benefits.
And it will make it easier for tenants to have pets, a right which the landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse.
All tenants are to be moved onto a single system of periodic tenancies, which in the government’s words mean “they can leave poor quality housing without remaining liable for the rent or move more easily when their circumstances change”.
A tenancy will only end if a tenant ends or a landlord has a valid reason, defined in law.
There will be a doubling of notice periods for rent increases and tenants will have stronger powers to challenge them if they are unjustified.
The government says it is also “giving councils stronger powers to tackle the worst offenders, backed by enforcement pilots, and increasing fines for serious offences.”
There will also be a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman to enable disputes between private renters and landlords to be settled quickly, at low cost, and without going to court.
Landlords deemed to be “responsible” will be able to gain possession of their properties efficiently from anti-social tenants “and can sell their properties when they need to”.
There will be a new property portal that will “provide a single front door to help landlords to understand, and comply with, their responsibilities as well as giving councils and tenants the information they need to tackle rogue operators”.
The government said: “These reforms will help to ease the cost of living pressures renters are facing, saving families from unnecessarily moving from one privately rented home to another hundreds of pounds in moving costs.
“We have already taken significant action over the past decade to improve private renting, including reducing the proportion of non-decent private rented homes from 37 to 21 per cent, capping tenancy deposits and banning tenancy fees for tenancy agreements signed after 1 June 2019, and introducing pandemic emergency measures to ban bailiff evictions.
“While the majority of private rented homes are of good quality, offering safe, comfortable accommodation for families, the conditions of more than half a million properties – or 12 per cent of households - pose an imminent risk to tenants’ health and safety, meaning around 1.6 million people are living in dangerously low-quality homes, driving up costs for our health service.
“The sector offers the most expensive, least secure, and lowest quality housing to millions of renters, including 1.3 million households with children and 382,000 households over 65. Rents are also rising at their fastest level for five years. This can damage life chances and hold back some of the most deprived parts of the country.”
Housing secretary Michael Gove said: “For too long many private renters have been at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords who fail to repair homes and let families live in damp, unsafe and cold properties, with the threat of unfair ‘no fault’ evictions orders hanging over them.
“Our New Deal for renters will help to end this injustice by improving the rights and conditions for millions of renters as we level up across the country and deliver on the people’s priorities.”
Cllr David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “We are pleased that the government has committed to introducing legislation through the White Paper to increase the rights of tenants and enable them to better hold their landlord to account.
“Removal of ‘no-fault evictions’ is a key step towards increased protection for private renters and will allow renters to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of eviction. It will also be important that landlords are able to get their properties back in a timely fashion where they have a valid reason to do so.
“Commitment to extending a legally binding Decent Homes Standard to improve conditions in the private rented sector is positive. This reform should be implemented quickly, and it is vital that councils are sufficiently resourced, through new burdens funding, to support the implementation of the standard.
“To go even further towards tackling insecure and unfit housing, we would like to see a review of Local Housing Allowance rates, and councils to have stronger selective licensing powers by removing the requirement for Secretary of State approval for larger schemes.
“Councils want their residents to have the security of a safe and well-maintained home with any issues quickly and satisfactorily addressed, and we are pleased to see the introduction of a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman to help settle disputes.”
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, added: “Whilst headline commitments to strengthening possession grounds, speedier court processes and mediation are helpful, the detail to follow must retain the confidence of responsible landlords, as well as improving tenants’ rights.
“We will be analysing the government’s plans carefully to ensure they meet this test. A failure to do so will exacerbate the housing crisis at a time when renters are struggling to find the homes they need.
“The eventual legislation needs to recognise that government actions have led to a shortage of supply in the sector at a time of record demand. It is causing landlords to leave the sector and driving up rents when people can least afford it.”