12 Sep 2014
Yesterday the Government announced its intention to support Sarah Teather’s Bill to end retaliatory eviction. This is a huge step forward for private renters. It comes after a long period of campaigning from across the housing sector and Shelter’s supporters.
But there was even more good news. The Housing Minister also launched a new model tenancy agreement and Industry Code of Practice for letting and managing privately rented homes. Both are voluntary measures, but mark an important step forward in recognising that the sector does not currently provide enough decent and stable homes.
Since 2012 Shelter has been calling for the introduction of a new, longer-term renting contract to give renters greater stability. The government hopes that their new ‘family friendly’ model tenancy will encourage landlords to offer exactly that. This is a huge step in the right direction, and we hope landlords will follow the government’s lead.
For too long, it has been assumed that private renters are predominately young and highly mobile single people. In reality, families with children now make up nearly a third of private renting households. More and more people are renting privately for longer, and at more settled stages of their lives. For these people the standard 6 or 12 month tenancy agreement does not provide any security or stability. Renters fear that they will be evicted from their homes with only two months to find somewhere new to live. For families, this is particularly disruptive. Children are uprooted from schools, and vital networks providing support and childcare are lost. One in ten renting parents told us that they’ve had to change their children’s school due to moving, and more than 4 in 10 parents feel their children would have a better childhood if they had more stability in their home.
We also know that the demand for longer tenancies is huge. When we asked renters if they’d like one, only 4% disagreed. But voluntary adoption of longer tenancies by landlords will not transform the lives of renting families overnight, and almost certainly not for those living at the bottom end of the market. Nonetheless the publication of the new model tenancy sends a strong message from the government that renting families need a much better deal and Shelter is delighted that the government has taken this step.
Improving professional standards
The government also introduced a new Industry Code of Practice, making clear the legal requirements and best practice for letting agents and landlords. Whilst this is only a voluntary code, the government has always made it clear that eventually it will be made statutory.
There is clearly a huge need for better guidance on the letting and management of homes in the PRS. Our advisors work with a disproportionate number of private renters living in unacceptable conditions. Too often the behaviour of landlords and letting agents is unsatisfactory. This is hardly surprising though. There are obviously a small number of rogue landlords who deliberately exploit renters. But there are far more amateur landlords who simply aren’t aware of their rights and responsibilities. Our research shows that only 5% of landlords regard renting as their main or full-time job, and more than three-quarters have never been a member of any trade body or held any license or accreditation.
Regulation governing the behaviour of letting agents is scant to say the least. This is particularly problematic given the huge number of amateur landlords who rely on agents to manage their properties. The government has taken further action to help address this problem and from the 1st October all letting agents will have to be a member of an independent government approved redress scheme. If renters receive a poor quality service from their letting agent, and it cannot be resolved between the two parties, then they can approach the redress schemes for independent dispute resolution. It is highly likely that the schemes will use the new Code to help decide when letting agents have not acted appropriately. Given that a third a renters say they can’t trust their letting agent, Shelter hopes that this will give them a greater level of consumer protection.
Combined with yesterday’s move to ban revenge evictions, these moves represent a major step towards giving renters the protection they deserve. It’s now up to the industry to respond positively.