Is the delay in the Renters Reform Bill being passed a missed opportunity for much needed updating for landlord and tenant law?

24 Nov 2020 | William Ford

There have been issues tenants have faced for a long time before pandemic; namely no fault evictions and the other is raising a deposit.

In the pipeline for this year was the Renters Reform Bill. This was supposed to, if passed, remove the Section 21 (“s.21”) notice procedure as an avenue for removing tenants and allow for lifetime deposits to exist.

As early as 15 April 2019, the Government announced that private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants at short notice or without good reason. This was a direct response to the longstanding impact s.21 notices have on tenants. A s.21 notice is known as a no fault eviction and allows landlords the ability to evict a tenant without the need to justify the reason for an eviction. Whilst over the years, the use of a s.21 notice has been more difficult, provided a valid notice is served the Court has to grant possession to the landlord.

Not all landlords are bad and solicitors are normally instructed in the worst case scenario where a tenant faces harassment, disrepair or eviction. Occasionally it is all three. Some of the issues solicitors find their clients in a private rented property experience are:

  1. Fear of raising a repair request;
  2. Fear of challenging a landlord’s insistence of entering their property without notice;
  3. Accepting a rent increase;
  4. Letting the landlord turn off the gas or water and
  5. Taking steps to avoid doing anything to upset their landlord.

The fear stems from the landlord’s ability to use a s.21 notice to evict them. The thought of having to re-settle elsewhere is often overwhelming.

The lack of security of tenure in a property has made some clients live in fear of an eviction and feel less settled than those in long term tenancies.

Their removal of the s.21 notice procedure does not mean that there is a free for all for tenants. In fact it means that provided the tenant adheres to the tenancy agreement, for example by paying rent regularly, the contract continues. This would surely mean that there is a stable market for both renters and landlords. The tenant doesn’t have to live in fear. Also the landlord will be protected through the terms of the tenancy agreement and the many other grounds for eviction available.

Another proposed change by the Renters Reform Bill is that there would be a lifetime deposit for tenants. This was announced in December 2019 by the Queen, the specific details are yet to be finalised. However the idea is that a tenant would not need to raise money for a deposit each time they move, but it would follow them to new properties they move to.  The actual ability for tenants in the private rented sector to raise a deposit each time they move to a new property is difficult. However the current system is set up for the tenant to receive the deposit back from whichever government scheme is holding the deposit. Without seeing specific details, it is not clear how effective this would be for tenants. However it is understood the aim is to make a move more fluid for both landlord and tenant.

Baroness Lawrence has produced a report called An Avoidable Crisis The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (“the report”). There are a number of recommendations within the report for the government to implement, for full details please click here

The report calls for the Renters Reform Bill to go further in particular the report provides:

Research by Shelter has found that four in 10 landlords admitted that “prejudices and stereotypes” come into letting decisions. [1]    

This is exacerbated by the Government’s right to rent policy, which has been found to lead to discrimination in the housing market. [2]    

  • The Government should urgently bring forward emergency legislation to protect renters in this crisis, and ensure that its Renters Reform Bill includes measures to tackle racial discrimination in the private rental market.
  • The Government should raise the local housing allowance to the level of local average rents, to ensure low-income households are not forced into debt eviction and homelessness during the crisis.

The report flags up the issue of discrimination, and highlights that being a tenant reliant on housing benefit poses financial barriers too. Raising the local housing allowance would see a willingness for landlords to rent people on Housing Benefit or Universal Credit (“DSS”). The Renters Reform Bill may be a way to prevent discrimination faced by people trying to rent in the private rental market and dependent on DSS. This is a real issue many tenants face, earlier this year it was confirmed that refusing to rent to people on DSS was a form of indirect discrimination as they disproportionately harm women and disabled people, who are more likely to receive housing benefit. Click here for details.

This year has seen unprecedented legislation being passed in response to the pandemic. There was a moratorium on evictions from March to September 2020.  There is a requirement for a reactivation notice to be lodged for current possession cases to proceed. There has been a further ban on enforcement of possession orders until January 2021. The notice period for possession notices were changed. The majority of the changes were to deal with the current pandemic and avoid the spread of the virus as much as possible by slowing down the eviction process.

Whilst the pandemic has been a priority, surely the long term goal of revising landlord and tenant law should to address the specific concerns which had been identified by the Government already should have been pushed forward. There have been decades of a lack of social housing being built and the only real option for many renters has been to seek a tenancy in the private sector. The government in fact relies on the private sector to plug the gap for renters. For example local authorities can offer a homeless applicant a private rented property in meeting their homelessness duty. The Renters Reform Bill has fundamental consequences for landlords and tenants but could go further. 2020 has seen an emphasis on tenant protection but there has been no solution looking beyond the pandemic. The lack of progression with the Renters Reform Bill leaves tenants receiving a s.21 notice and potentially facing eviction despite a government promise to stop this from happening more than a year ago.  It is hoped that in the forthcoming year, in light of progress made with the covid19 vaccine, a much needed long term overhaul of the landlord tenant law is undertaken.

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