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23rd May 2023

Another broken promise for renters?

Another broken promise for renters?

Call me sceptical, but seeing another announcement from yet another Secretary of State in charge of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities makes me wonder whether we will actually see much change in the rental market. The ministry - formerly known as Housing, Communities and Local Government - has had a succession of 20 ministers since 1997, each with their own ideas about how things can be made better.

To be fair, the Renters' (Reform) Bill has actually been introduced to Parliament and might actually see the government deliver part of its manifesto commitment to abolish section 21 (or "no-fault") evictions. 

Currently, this gives the right for landlords to simply provide two months' notice to existing residential tenants to leave without any reason rather than going through the more formal section 8 (or "fault") route. This may provide some valuable protection to the estimated 11 million people currently renting and enable them to put down roots without the stress of potentially losing their home.

The government states that the Bill will also give protection to the estimated 2 million landlords making it easier for them to recover properties when they need to; for example, when tenants do not pay rent or if they need to sell the property, with reduced notice periods for tenants causing damage to property.

The other key highlight is the ability for tenants to be given a legal right to request they can keep a pet in their home, which a landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse.

Reform of the protection for tenants has been long overdue. However, it will have to strike a balance between tenant protection and giving certainty to landlords. The reality is that almost half of landlords own just one rental property and most individual landlords own between one and four properties. The reasons for ownership may be varied and complicated: yes, there are many who have been lured by the promises of riches from buy-to-let made popular by TV programmes and wanting to invest in bricks and mortar rather than a traditional pension. However, some may unwittingly have become landlords by virtue of being left by a property from a parent in a Will, or bought a flat whilst single and retained it after moving in with a spouse or partner.

Tenants' own experience will similarly vary: there will be long-renting tenants happy with their property and their landlord just as much as those stuck with problematic landlords who might use the section 21 eviction notice to get rid of a "troublesome" tenant simply because they asked for the heating to be fixed or property mended. My experience has been with the former and it may perhaps be no surprise that landlords who seek legal advice will treat tenants better.

The main issue that this doesn't tackle is simply a lack of housing. By all accounts, demand for rental property is up 50% over a five-year average, whilst at the same time the stock of rental homes has reduced. Perhaps if there was more underlying property available for renting, it would mean that unscrupulous landlords could not get away with letting substandard property and so the need for having such protection would be restricted. 

However, as we have seen in the past, when it comes to proposed changes to the rental market, we will have to see if this will actually come into force or whether it will end just as another broken promise for renters.