Full plans for a seismic shake-up of the private rental sector are due to be published any day, as landlords and tenants hold their breath in anticipation of what has — and hasn’t — made the final cut.
Levelling Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove confirmed in a Sky News appearance on Wednesday 3 May that the much-delayed Renters Reform Bill would be unveiled imminently, more than four years after initial consultations.
The legislation is yet to be published. The Mirror newspaper reports that the delay is due to “procedural issues”, while it’s thought that some Conservative MPs are concerned that the proposed reforms are too harsh on landlords and second home owners.
Mr Gove said the legislation “will change the way in which the relationship between landlords and tenants work, providing tenants with new protection which should ensure that they’re better protected from arbitrary rent increases.”
A white paper published in June last year laid out proposals including a ban on no-fault evictions and fixed-term contracts, plus greater protection for tenants in receipt of benefits or with a pet in tow.
It also pledged that the Decent Homes Standard would be extended to cover privately rented homes for the first time, citing an English Housing Survey that found 1.6 million people are living in dangerously low-quality homes.
“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,” it said.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate has called it “a game-changer for England’s 11 million private renters” — but critics say it’s come too late.
A coalition of campaigners marched on Downing Street in March, expressing anger at the languid pace of progress and demanding promises put forward were urgently fulfilled.
The Bill will need to pass through parliament before dates can be set for the laws to come into effect, which could take several months.
So what can we expect to see?
An end to no-fault evictions
The backbone of the Bill is the abolishment of Section 21, a key piece of legislation from the Housing Act 1988 that allows landlords to evict tenants without providing justification.
First proposing the ban on 15 April 2019, the Government said that “private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice and without good reason”.
Nearly 230,000 private renters have received a no-fault eviction notice in the three years since, according to research called out by Shelter and Yougov — which equates to one every seven minutes.
Its inclusion in the bill is as good as confirmed — plans to end no-fault evictions were published in the manifesto in November 2019, in the white paper in June 2022 and reaffirmed by a spokesperson for the Department as recently as March.
A tenancy “will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession”.
...but Section 8 could provide a loophole for landlords
Those grounds for possession will also be subject to a shake-up, with landlords promised “effective means to gain possession of their properties when necessary”.
Evictions due to anti-social behaviour would be expedited and there will be new grounds for persistant arrears — i.e. unpaid rent — and the sale of the property.
The wider implication is an upheaval of Section 8, which is a type of eviction notice issued by a landlord when they believe the tenant is in breach of their agreement.
The worry is that the bar for issuing a Section 8 notice could be lowered to account for the abolishment of no-fault evictions.
Rigid fixed-term contracts could be out
Tenancy structure is also under the spotlight, with the standard Assured Shorthold Tenancy in line to be scrapped.
Instead, a periodic or rolling system — which currently comes into effect when a fixed term has expired — would become the norm. Tenants will need to give two months’ notice.
“Locking parties into a contract undermines the flexibility that the Private Rented Sector offers and restricts tenants’ and landlords’ ability to react to changing personal circumstances,” according to the white paper.
Landlords might have to join a register
A new online property portal could provide a single “front door” for landlords, tenants and local councils.
Though the proposal falls short of proposing a universal landlord license, the portal will be more than a policy hub — tenants will be able to access information about their landlord’s historic compliance, and local councils will use the data to crack down on criminal landlords.
There are future plans to integrate info from the Database of Rogue Landlords, which would make the offenses public.
According to government data cited in the white paper, just 30 per cent of landlords “are demonstrating good practice”.
At the moment, it’s not clear how the portal would look or function.
Notice periods for rent increases could be doubled
Landlords would need to give two months’ notice, rather than one, if they want to increase the rent — which would only be allowed once per year. Rent review clauses in contracts would be banned.
If a tenant approaches the First-tier Tribunal with a “disproportionate” rent increase, it would not be able to increase rent beyond the amount the landlord initially asked for.
Separately, if a desperate tenant has offered multiple months’ rent upfront — an increasingly common practice in London’s bidding wars — the landlord would be legally required to repay it if a tenancy ends earlier than the period that has been paid for.
The introduction of rent control, meanwhile, is firmly off the agenda: “Historical evidence suggests that this would discourage investment in the sector and would lead to declining property standards as a result, which would not help landlords or tenants.”
No more blanket bans on benefit claimants or families with children
“No DSS” is a common sight on rental listings, but the government could be poised to make it illegal for a landlord to refuse tenancies to families with children or those in receipt of benefits.
It’s also been suggested that this could widen to cover other vulnerable groups in the future, such as prison leavers.
The challenge will be proving that a tenant has been rejected on these grounds, particularly in competitive markets.
Households with dependent children make up 30 per cent of the private rented sector, according to the government’s own research, while 26 per cent receive some kind of Housing Benefit.
Landlords would have to consider pets
The English Private Landlord Survey 2021 found that 45 per cent of landlords were unwilling to let to tenants with pets.
Good news for furry friends — the Bill is expected to stop these blanket “no pet” policies, with the onus on landlords to prove why the request is unreasonable.
Animal charities have long lamented the attitudes towards pet ownership in the private rented sector and the knock-on effect for rehoming centres.
Dogs Trust has said that around one in 10 owners that contact them cite issues with housing as the main reason for needing to rehome their dog, while Cats Protection estimates that it took in 1,300 cats last year due to landlord bans.
Decent Homes Standard extended to the private rental sector
Introduced in 2001, the Decent Homes Standard states that public housing must be free from serious health and safety hazards.
That assurance could be extended to the private rental sector for the first time.
How this will be rolled out is another matter, but the white paper pledged to run pilot schemes with a selection of local councils to explore the different ways they could enforce standards.
A new ombudsman could keep disputes out of court
A “powerful” new ombudsman could help enforce these sweeping policy changes and ensure that low-profile disputes between tenants and landlords can be settled quickly — and without going to court.
All landlords will be required to join.