The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has announced a spate of planned reforms to private renting in its new White Paper, dubbed ‘a fairer private rented sector’. It claims that this will offer a “fairer deal” for the 13 million renters in the United Kingdom, as well as ‘fundamentally reforming the private rented sector and levelling up housing inequality in this country’.

 

But does it live up to those promises? Keep reading to find out.

 

Some of the major reforms included in the White Paper are plans to:

 

  • Ban no-fault evictions
  • An intention to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector the first time
  • Remove arbitrary rent review clauses

 

It will also be illegal for landlords or agents to have blanket bans on renting to families with children or those who receive benefits and will make it easier for tenants to keep pets in their homes. The reforms are included in the Renters Reform Bill as announced in the 2022 Queen’s Speech and will be introduced in this current parliamentary session.

 

No fault evictions

 

No fault section 21 evictions will be outlawed, meaning that landlords will be unable to evict tenants without giving a reason. According to the White Paper, more than a fifth of renters who moved home in 2019 and 2020 did not move by choice. Research by the homeless charity Shelter also found that a private renter is served a no-fault eviction notice every seven minutes despite government promises to scrap it three years ago, a total of 230,000 people during that time.

 

This will rebalance the power between landlords and tenants, meaning that tenants will be less worried about raising problems in the property with their landlord and raising the level of accountability for landlords versus tenants. It will also essentially mean that tenancies will only end if the tenants decides to end it or if the landlord has valid grounds for possession.

 

Decent Homes Standard

 

For the first time, the Decent Homes Standard will also apply to the private rented sector. Currently, the Decent Homes Standard only applies to the social rented sector.

 

These proposals will mean that landlords will be forced to improve the condition of properties where the health of tenants is at risk. This will include damp, dirty and unfit homes, which is currently a fifth of privately rented properties. It also includes making homes free from health and safety hazards, as well as ensuring that landlords keep their homes in a good state of repair.

 

In order to meet the Decent Homes Standard, properties must meet the following criteria:

 

(1) it meets the current statutory minimum standard for housing

(2) it is in a reasonable state of repair

(3) it has reasonably modern facilities and services and

(4) it provides a reasonable degree of thermal comfort.

 

This is in line with the government’s objectives to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030. Nevertheless, some within the property industry have pointed out how important it is to ensure that the decent homes standard does not lead to landlords exiting the market.

 

Rent review clauses

 

Increases to rent will only be allowed once per year. Rent-review clauses will also be removed and improve the ability of tenants to challenge excessive rent increases through the First Tier Tribunal.

 

Furthermore, the notice with which a landlord must give a tenant in terms of a rent increase will raise from one month to two months.

 

Furthermore, all changes to rent increases will have the potential to be challenged at the First-tier Tribunal if tenants consider the increase to be unjustified. This is possible because all rent increases will need to be undertaken via the Section 13 process. This is currently not the case, as it can currently be increased on an ad hoc basis.

 

Other reforms

 

Another major reform will mean that landlords or agents will be prevented from being able to have blanket bans on renting to families with children or those who receive benefits.

 

The reforms will also make it easier to tenants to keep pets, removing a landlord’s ability to impose a blanket ban on the practise. In 2020, only 7% of landlords advertised their property as being suitable for pets. Nevertheless, the Tenant Fees Act will be reformed so that landlords can request that their tenants buy pet insurance.

 

There will also be an ombudsman which all landlords must sign up to. This would ensure that disputes between landlords and tenants can be settled quickly, without going to court, which will be welcomed by many of those within both parties.

 

Finally, a new property portal will help landlords to better understand their obligations as a landlord and what is legally required of them.

 

Our comments

 

We welcome the reforms in this White Paper, many of which have been a long time coming and came to the forefront during the Covid pandemic when tenants were forced to spend more time in often substandard homes. The removal of no-fault evictions is a particularly major reform which should rebalance the relationship between renters and landlords.

 

While these reforms will be welcomed by private renters, until they are enacted many will remain about sceptical about whether or when they will take effect. The Employment Bill is one example of a White Paper which was previously announced and has since failed to come into effect. However, the fruition of this legislation would be a genuine example of the ‘levelling up’ which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described as the “defining mission” of his government.

 

 

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