Last time I wrote about the Housing and Planning Bill its measures were looking good for private renters. Since then, the Bill has passed through committee stage in the Commons and the government has confirmed that they want to crackdown on rogue landlords and will consider further reforms. I’m now positively optimistic that the Bill will improve things for renters.
When we wrote our Safe and Decent Homes report last year it was clear that a sea-change was required to make private rented accommodation suitable for families – after all, a third of privately rented homes would fail the government’s own Decent Homes Standard.
To shake up the sector, we need laws that protect and empower renters. We need clarity from the government that they see the main business of private landlords as providing decent homes for England’s families. And, as a vital backstop, we need well-resourced and empowered local authorities to enforce standards and clamp down on the minority of rogue landlords.
The Bill will make real progress on this last point: in fact the government has already strengthened some of its own measures to tackle rogue landlords during committee – and landlords have themselves welcomed the recognition that a few landlords give the rest of the sector a bad name
As it stands, the Bill will help local authorities to understand the local private rental market by giving them access to data on landlords who have protected their tenants’ deposits. It will also create a blacklist of rogue landlords convicted of housing offences. There are also plans to strengthen the test for landlords who rent out licensed properties to make sure they are suitable landlords.
For the first time, local authorities will be allowed to hand out £5,000 penalty fines to rogue landlords. Government may even increase the fine to provide a stronger deterrent to landlords. It’s absolutely crucial that government allow local authorities to keep the proceeds of these fines, to give them the resources and incentives to carry out enforcement.
The Bill will also extend the use of rent repayment orders, so tenants can reclaim rent they have paid if their landlord hasn’t dealt with poor conditions. Where housing benefit has paid the rent, local authorities will be able to pursue a claim and keep the money.
The government will also create banning orders so that the minority of landlords who repeatedly break the law will be stopped in their tracks. Government are now planning on putting landlords in prison if they continue to operate when they have been banned. It’s a welcome recognition that a minority of landlords need driving out of the market all together.
So, there is much to be happy with. But as ever, more to be done.
As the Bill passes through into the Lords, government should now turn its attention to introducing laws which protect and empower renters and provide vital clarity about the standard of accommodation we expect our families to live in.
This is an opportunity to save lives and really drive up standards:
- Mandatory electrical safety checks for privately rented properties would cut down the number of injuries and death caused by electrical faults and fires.
- Government should update the law to bring back a contractual requirement that all privately rented properties must be fit for human habitation – setting clear expectations for both landlords and tenants, and allowing renters to challenge poor conditions without cost to the local authority.
- The law should also protect both landlord and renters’ money when they have entrusted it to letting agents, in case they go bust.
As I said, there’s more to be done. Let’s hope the government keeps on course and steers the Bill to being a genuine sea-change for renters. The one in four families in England that rent privately depend on it.