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New deal for renters, tough deal for landlords

Publishing a ’new deal for private renters’, the Government has made clear that when it comes to private rented sector reform, its sympathies are fair and square with those who represent tenants.

Its White Paper, published this week as a precursor to its promised Renters Reform Bill, ‘marks a generational shift that will redress the balance between landlords and 4.4m private rented tenants’, it said.

A fairer private rented sector proposes a ban on section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions, extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector, an end to ‘arbitrary rent review clauses’, stronger powers allowing tenants to challenge poor practice and unjustified rent increases, and allowing rent repayment orders to be made where landlords provide non-decent homes. It will also be made illegal for landlords or agents to impose blanket bans on renting to families with children or those in receipt of benefits and changes to make it easier for tenants to keep pets – by giving all tenants the right to make a request t keep a pet, which the landlord will have to consider and may not unreasonably refuse.

All tenants are to be moved onto a single system of periodic tenancies, meaning 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 stronger powers for councils to tackle ‘the worst offenders’ with increased fines for serious transgressions.

There will be a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman charged with settling disputes between private renters and landlords ‘quickly, at low cost, and without going to court’.

‘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’, said Levelling Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove when introducing the White Paper.
‘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’.

Among the first to speak up for the proposed changes was the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. ‘We strongly welcome the publication of this White Paper and look forward to seeing these announcements translate into action’, said its policy and campaigns manager Tamara Sandoul.

‘We are also heartened to see the Government’s commitment to better security and protections for tenants. The set of announcements should make a real difference to the millions of renters, who rightly would like to have a bit more stability and certainty whilst they are renting’.

But Real Estate Partner at JMW Solicitors, David Smith, said that while some of the proposed reforms are huge, such as an end to s21, others are likely to end up being a bit of a damp squib.

‘The elephant in the room however is that most of this stuff will only apply to Assured Shorthold Tenancies. There are long-standing ways to avoid the AST regime and it is likely that some landlords will look to dust these off to continue operating as they are’.

Outlawing blanket bans of people on benefits is more than likely to lead to private landlords adopting the same approach as some social landlords and simply telling tenants that their income (less benefits) is too low and that they cannot afford the property, he said.

A move to help tenants with pets ‘seems like a bit of a crowd-pleaser’ that will have to include so many exceptions that is likely to be unworkable in practice, said Smith.

Meanwhile, the Government seems determined to say that its proposal for a single landlord portal does not amount to a landlord register. ‘But if it is compulsory then it is hard to see how it is anything else, however it is dressed up. However it now looks more like an advice portal for landlords but with some information from the register of rogue landlords and agents included’.