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What’s happening with the Renters Reform Bill?

Katie Townsend explains the housing legislation currently moving through parliament, starting with the Renters Reform Bill.

It’s well-known that London is suffering from a severe housing crisis. But what are national, regional and local government actually doing to solve it?

In a series of short explainers, we’ll be unpacking the legislation being proposed by the government, looking at how quickly these are pushing through parliament, and considering what impact each will have on the capital.

Renters Reform Bill

What is it?

The Renters Reform Bill is by far the heftiest piece of housing legislation making its way through the Commons, promising significant change to how we regulate the private rented sector, to achieve a fairer balance of power between landlords and tenants.

It has evolved from a white paper published in June 2022, titled ‘A Fairer Private Rented Sector’.

From this paper, the Renters Reform Bill promises:

  • Replacing all Assured Shorthold Tenancies with a single system of periodic tenancies. Assured Shorthold Tenancies  are short term, fixed contracts such as 6-, 12- or 14-month contracts. These are to be abolished and replaced by a single system of periodic – or more commonly termed ‘rolling’ – tenancies, where the contract has no end date and automatically renews each month.

  • A mandated notice of rent increases. Landlords will be required to give two months’ notice to tenants if they wish to raise the rent.

  • Easing legislation on pet ownership. Currently, landlords can prevent pet ownership in privately rented accommodation. The bill would allow tenants to request permission for a pet and require landlords to not unreasonably withhold consent.

  • Regulation of private landlords by an ombudsman. Landlords in the private rental sector would be required to join a single Ombudsman,  to enable tenants to make complaints against the landlord. The Housing Ombudsman Service is a free independent service that arbitrates housing complaints. It currently only applies to registered providers of social housing.

  • An introduction of a mandatory property portal. All private sector landlords will be required to register with an online database known as a property portal. Landlords will not be permitted to market, advertise, or let dwellings which are not registered on the portal.

  • To apply the Decent Homes Standard to the Private Rental Sector. This legislation, created to regulate the social housing sector, will be extended to cover the private rental sector. It sets out the minimum standard required for a house to be lived in, covering the state of repair, safety, security and relative comfort of the accommodation and that the property be maintained at a suitable temperature.

  • Families with children and people on benefits cannot be discriminated against by private landlords. This would outlaw blanket bans against discrimination, removing statements such as ‘working professionals only’, ‘no benefits’ ‘no DSS’ or ‘no children’ when advertising properties.

Where are we now?

The Renters Reform Bill was first proposed in parliament in May 2023. It underwent its first reading successfully.

The second reading, however, saw delays to its implementation. The government have stated that significant reforms to the court system would be necessary before Section 21 evictions can be abolished. With the courts in disarray and landlords waiting 23 weeks for repossession of properties, this is unlikely to be a quick process. From the complete digitisation of court records to a huge increase in bailiff recruitment, if this decision is upheld, it could be years before the Renters Reform Bill is enacted into law.

We still don’t know when the bill will have its third and final reading before passing to the Lords.

UPDATE: On 11th February 2024, Michael Gove committed to ending Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions before the general election in an interview with the BBC.

What does this mean for Londoners?

The proportion of homes rented privately in the capital has doubled since the millennium. Now, nearly a third of residents in London are renting privately, compared to a fifth across England. That means over a million households in London are left unprotected from rogue landlords and unfair practices.

The Renters Reform Bill has the potential to redress the balance between tenants and landlords. This is crucial in the capital, where 1 in 6 of privately rented properties don’t meet the Decent Homes Standards – a higher proportion than both owner-occupied and social housing.

Yet the bill isn’t perfect. It creates new grounds for eviction, such as when a landlord wants to sell their property. There are real concerns that these could allow ‘Section 21 by the back door’. But it is a critical first step on the journey to deeper reforms.

The delays, however, are costing people their homes. Analysis by City Hall in October revealed that an average of 290 London renters a week have faced ‘no-fault’ evictions since the initial promise of abolishing Section 21 evictions in 2019. Even a further six-month delay is estimated to cause 15,000 Londoners being given Section 21 notices. Indeed, since that same date in 2019, 70% of the UK’s no-fault evictions have taken place in the capital.

These worrying statistics paint a clear picture. We need the Renters Reform Bill to be passed as soon as possible, to stop tenants being evicted onto the streets and end the unfair treatment of tenants currently residing in privately rented accommodation.

Everyone deserves to live safely in their own homes.