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Longer Tenancies the Norm – Without Legislation

Just over a year ago, in the run-up to the general election, both the main parties were looking at extending the length of tenancies – the Conservatives looking at a ‘family-friendly’ choice for a 3 year tenancy, Labour believing that the minimum tenancy should be 3 years with the only option to shorten this being at the tenant’s behest (though should grounds exist, the landlord could then evict).

Since the election, there has been little heard about the necessity for longer tenancies – perhaps the Government have taken pity on landlords, who have had to face tax changes, new section 8 and section 21 notices and a large increase in the cost of possession proceedings; have they decided to hold off on longer tenancies, which many would see as unnecessary and unwelcome.

However, two recent reports would indicate how out of touch with landlords both the Labour and Conservative parties were in their campaigning for this. The English Housing Survey 2014-15 found that the number of private rented properties which accommodated families with dependent children had risen from 30% in 2004-05 to 37% in the current survey. Doubtless, statistics like this would feed the arguments made by Shelter and CAB for longer fixed tenancies; however, without legislation, without force, private sector landlords have responded to the need for additional security. 

The average length of a private sector tenancy is now 4 years; this has increased from 3.5 years in 2013-2014. This is hardly surprising; decent family accommodation is valued and tenants are unlikely to move if the property meets their requirements. On the other side, landlords want tenants that are settled and that look after their properties. They don’t evict tenants that pay the rent and cause no problems either to themselves or the neighbours. When this is considered, the inevitable conclusion is that CAB and Shelter and their political supporters, are really wanting additional security for those tenants that would not encourage a landlord to keep them – and there are usually reasons for this!

An additional factor is that if the landlord uses an Agent, he will be charged fees for finding a new tenant; the new tenant could turn out to be bad news, therefore, the landlord is far more likely to feel ‘better the devil you know’ – though the existing tenant could be a Saint!

The second piece of research was conducted by an online letting agent. They found that 4 out of 5 of the tenants they came into contact with did not want long tenancies, most wanting no more than 2 years. This may be down to the client group they accommodate, which could be predominantly singles, as they see a need for flexibility – to be able to move to find work or due to a better employment opportunity arising out of the area; they could also be on a salary scale they know will increase and, whilst content with a smaller or less stylish property at the beginning of their working lives would want to move to something better, when they can afford to do so.

Without a doubt, there are some tenants who are treated badly by landlords, who are expected to move after 6 months, but this is not the general picture. Many landlords are happy for tenants to live in their properties as long as they like, often without rent increases over a number of years.  Only where landlords have a proven record of repeated evictions at the 6 month stage should actions be taken to stop this behavior, which is callous and distressing for families. 

The majority of caring landlords should be left to operate their businesses as they see fit and which works well for many. Long-standing tenancies are already the norm in many areas and it is common-sense – not law – that brought them into being.

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