New discussion of the new Renter’s Reform Bill has been expected for weeks, but the latest parliamentary timetable shows it is not due to be addressed until after the summer break.
The bill is intended to equalise the relationship between landlords and tenants by, among other things, ending no-fault evictions and fixed-term tenancies. It was initially introduced to parliament in May as a realisation of a 2019 conservative campaign promise but has yet to enter its proposed second round of talks.
With parliament’s summer recess beginning July 20th, we now won’t see the next discussions of the bill begin until September at the earliest.
What will the Renters Reform Bill change?
In its current form, the Renters Reform Bill will lead to huge changes in the private rental sector.
Chief among these, and a major concern for landlords, is the end of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, under which a landlord can end a tenancy for any reason. This means landlords looking to sell or move back into a property will need to reach an agreement with tenants before doing so.
Alongside this, the bill will see an end to the current widespread system of fixed-term tenancies. Instead of tenants and landlords committing to a period of fixed rent and occupancy, tenants will be free to end their occupancy at any time with notice, while landlords will be able to adjust rents to reflect market changes.
To address potential power imbalances under the new system, landlords will gain increased powers to regain possession of their property, and tenants increased protection to dispute unfair rent or poor practice without fear of eviction.
Also proposed is the introduction of a Private Rental Sector Ombudsman that is expected to act as a non-profit liaison, acting in the interests of tenants, landlords and agents. Landlords will also no longer be able to refuse a tenancy on the grounds of a tenant receiving DSS (housing benefit), and tenants will gain the right to request a pet, with the landlord unable to refuse without ‘reasonable grounds’.
The key features of the Renters Reform Bill
The main features of the bill as it currently exists are:
- The removal of Section 21, which allows for ‘no fault’ evictions. Landlords will now have to have a specific, permitted reason to evict tenants.
- Changes to the process of evicting tenants and the list of permitted reasons to make it easier for landlords to end tenancies due to ‘anti-social behaviour’, non-payment of rent or when they want to use or sell the property
- Rent increases will be limited to once a year, with tenants able to appeal unfair rises
- Stronger protections for tenants against ‘back door’ or illegal evictions
- The creation of a private rental sector ombudsman to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants
- Creating an online property portal for landlords to learn more about their legal responsibilities and register compliance
- Giving tenants the right to request a pet at their property, which landlords cannot refuse without good reason
- The end of fixed-term tenancies, to be replaced with indefinite rolling contracts or short term lets
- Included in the original government whitepaper and expected at the same time is a ban on refusing tenants based on them having children or being in receipt of certain benefits
Concerns about the Renters Reform Bill
Before the bill enters open discussion there has already been criticism levelled at the legislation from both landlords and tenants.
Many private landlords are concerned that the removal of section 21 eviction rights will leave them without protection from anti-social or delinquent tenants. Similarly, as interest rates on mortgage products and operational costs across the board rise, some private landlords believe that tenants’ rights to appeal rent increases would render their properties unprofitable.
Many tenants, meanwhile, are concerned about the increased powers landlords are to be granted to evict tenants who miss rent payments or are deemed ‘anti-social’ – section 8 evictions. The bill both broadens the definitions of what would constitute anti-social behaviour and expedites the eviction process in these circumstances.
There are also criticisms from both sides levelled at the bill that it does little to address the underlying cause of the housing crisis. When spiralling mortgage rates are putting buying a home out of reach for most and climbing rents, there’s a sense that the Renter’s Reform Bill is skirting the actual issue – a need for quality and affordable housing.
Where private landlords are unable to provide this, whether it’s because of being priced out of the market or divesting their portfolios to opt for a lower-risk investment option, it’s likely we’ll see more properties purchased by multi-development corporate landlords, and more evicted tenants turning to the unstable short-term lets still permitted under the bill.
When will the bill be passed?
There’s currently no immediate plan to discuss the bill on parliament’s return in September, so it’s unlikely we will see serious discussion until the autumn.
The current form of the bill is unpopular, particularly with private landlords and those in the lettings industry. Some opponents are taking the summer recess as an opportunity to campaign for changes to the proposed reform.
For now, we can only wait to see when the Renters Reform Bill will be discussed, and what changes it will have undergone before then. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping a close eye on if the threatened private landlord exodus is underway, or if the delay to the bill’s discussion has given sufficient hope for private landlords to remain in the market a little longer.
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