United Kingdom

Have last-minute changes made the Renters (Reform) Bill a “landlords’ charter”?

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The Houses of Parliament

The government is making some last-minute changes to the Renters (Reform) Bill ahead of its Third Reading on 24 April.

Have they made it into a “landlords’ charter”, as tenant campaigners say? Or have they made an important bill more balanced? Here are the key points:

  • The government has promised to overhaul the court process before banning Section 21 evictions for sitting tenants. This is impactful for the sector, but it’s not new: politicians have long accepted they need to cut delays in the court system. The more important announcement here is that landlords will only be able to evict new tenants through the courts, giving them greater protection from day one.
  • Fixed-term tenancies are still being scrapped, but tenants won’t be able to give notice in the first four months. As the notice period is two months, this will effectively create a six-month minimum term. This will increase flexibility for renters, many of whom currently sign up to and then renew contracts for 12 months at a time, while also giving landlords and agents more certainty when letting a property. The government believes it’s enough to ensure landlords get a tenancy long enough to cover the cost of finding a tenant and making repairs.
  • Landlords will be able to evict student tenants using a mandatory possession ground so long as they assert the right to use this ground in the tenancy agreement. Importantly, this will apply to all types of student rental properties, not just HMOs as proposed previously. That won’t affect the wider sector, but it’s a big deal for student landlords, whose businesses were threatened by the Renters (Reform) Bill as originally written.

For most private rented sector landlords and agents, the state of play is mostly unchanged – providing some much-needed certainty after five years of debate over rental reform.

But far from creating a “landlords’ charter”, the changes are also quite positive for tenants. The changes to eviction rules mean that more will be protected from “no fault” eviction each year as tenancies turn over, while the four-month wait to give notice is unlikely to affect many people: the average tenancy lasts for over two and a half years.

Meanwhile, student landlords and tenants can be certain that their homes will be vacant in time for the next academic year, no matter what type of property they are.

Reactions from the private rented sector

Tenant activist groups reacted furiously to the proposed changes, with the Renters Reform Coalition accusing the government of “selling renters down the river”. Generation Rent chief executive Ben Twomey also opposed the changes, and said tenants should have two years’ protection from eviction at the start of a tenancy.

Property industry organisations responded more calmly. Propertymark welcomed (and claimed partial credit for) the amendments, but said they were disappointed that the bill still doesn’t include more regulation of property agents.

Many landlords are still deeply worried, according to a survey by estate and letting agency brand Leaders Romans Group. More than half of their landlords (55%) said the Bill won’t change their investment plans, but that almost 20% planned to downsize their portfolios. The same percentage said they would sell up completely. Landlords without the benefit of experienced letting agents to guide them may have even more reason to worry – although they could still be reassured once they see the reforms in action.

As for tenants, most are unlikely to have an opinion. A recent survey by the TDS Charitable Foundation found that 83% didn’t know about the existence of the Renters (Reform) Bill.

Other housing policy news

Section 21 delays: Renters criticise five-year wait for ban on no-fault evictions – Sky News

Tories accused of abolishing manifesto pledge to scrap ground rents – Property Industry Eye

Wales to follow England’s stamp duty reliefs withdrawal for landlords – LandlordZONE

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