2023 has been a tough year for all of us but it has been an especially tough year if you’re a renter in the private sector. Rents have risen by 9.7% in the last year, according to Zoopla, adding insult to the injury of a 11.7% rise in 2022.
This has meant a terrible catch-22 situation for so many renters – many want to move but can’t because of how high rents have risen in their area, meaning renters are often having to put up with poorer conditions because often their current rent is still lower than that on other properties they have looked at. Other renters have been forced to move because their rent has been increased or their landlord has decided to sell the property they live in. It’s not surprising therefore that situation seems bleak for renters as this year comes to an end.
The renters (reform) bill
There has, however, been hope for private renters. The abolition of arbitrary section 21 evictions, first proposed by the government in 2019, is finally making its way through parliament. The renters (reform) bill would require landlords to have a valid reason in order to evict tenants, which will make it easier for tenants to complain about problems and plan their lives. Other measures in the bill include a ‘property portal’ aka national register of landlords, allowing private renters to access information about their landlord and the properties they are renting out; a new ombudsman to help adjudicate on issues between landlords and tenants; and stopping landlords having blanket bans on pets and tenants receiving benefits.
These measures are all a welcome step forward for private renters. However, the degree of delay to the legislation (its second reading debate only took place at the end of October despite the bill being initially published in May of this year) means that there will have been many private renters worried about the threat of eviction this Christmas. The bill is pretty good for landlords, allowing them to still evict tenants when they want to sell or move themselves or a family member in.
Regulation is a core and important part of any sector, and the private rented sector simply lacks full and robust regulation. Tenants are expected to pay rent to their landlord and should receive decent and affordable homes in return – the failure to provide this is not simply the result of bad landlords but rather the result of a bad system. The checks and balances proposed in the bill will help to alleviate many of the stresses that private renters currently face and will help to provide a rebalancing of power to them.
Renters (reform) bill: the campaign for amendments
The bill does, however, have its faults which Generation Rent is campaigning to be amended as it continues to go through parliament. One of the core issues with it is the length of notice period for evictions. If a landlord wishes to evict their tenant under the current rules set out in the bill, such as if the landlord wishes to sell the property or move into it, renters will still only have two months to find a new home. It’s clear that a longer period is needed.
Generation Rent is advocating that the government extend the notice period to four months to allow renters a greater opportunity to find a new home with less stress piled upon them. This, given the shortage of homes across all tenures, is an important period of grace.
Similarly, the bill doesn’t provide enough time for renters to enjoy their home without fear of being evicted for sale or other no-fault grounds after starting their tenancy. Under the current bill, with contracts that are rolling (as all tenancies will be once fixed-term tenancies are abolished as part of the bill) renters only have a six-month period of protection before they can be evicted. Generation Rent argues that period should be two years, which will help all renters, but especially those who face frequent unwanted moves, or have children at school and need stability in their lives.
Of course, there are other problems in the private rented sector that the bill won’t fix. Not only are enough new homes not being built but many of those that exist are exiting into the holiday lets sector. Councils across Yorkshire and Humber saw homes being taken away from residents in favour of the holiday homes sector with Scarborough being the worst hit, losing 1.4% of its housing stock between 2019 and 2022 with the properties becoming holiday lets or second homes.
The basic right to a safe, secure, affordable home
Despite the recent announcement from the chancellor that local housing allowance will be increased in April 2024, rising rents will soon outstrip the benefits, and renters relying on benefits will once again face painful sacrifices just to keep a roof over their heads. And the government’s decision to scrap new insulation requirements on landlords condemn millions of families to extortionate energy bills and damp and draughty homes.
However, amidst all this there is light at the end of the tunnel. The renters (reform) bill will soon be passed, and its passage will mark a significant shift forward in the fight to equalise rights between private renters and landlords. But there is still work to do to make sure that tenants enjoy better protections under the new system – reflecting the needs and ambitions of renters to have safe, secure and affordable homes.