As the saying goes, the grass is always greener. While this encourages us to appreciate what we already have, sometimes the grass on the other side is just much better. This is evident when comparing Scotland and Wales private renting sectors to our own in England.
Our neighbours have regulatory frameworks that aim to provide people with safe, secure and good- homes. Their regulations have two key components: strengthening renters’ rights and security and clarifying the responsibilities of landlords.
Sure, their systems are by no means perfect. However, if the government continues to drag its feet over bringing the Renters’ Reform Bill forward, renters in England have every right to be envious of their neighbours.
Strengthening renters’ rights and security
At the heart of Scotland and Wales’ renting reform is overturning ‘no fault’ evictions, a policy that means tenants can be asked to leave their homes at almost any time without a good reason.
Since 2017, ‘no fault’ evictions have been abolished in Scotland, meaning that the landlord must cite a valid reason for evicting a tenant.
Wales on the other hand has taken a milder and slower approach. This year, the Renting Homes Act will be passed after first being introduced in 2016. When the Act comes into force 15 July 2022, tenants will be guaranteed a minimum of a year’s security when they move in, including a six months’ notice for no fault evictions.
Wales’ approach may not be as bold as Scotland’s, and our sister organisation Shelter Cymru is continuing the fight for a total ban of no fault evictions. Still, at least one year of security is a major step up from England’s law where landlords can evict tenants outside a fixed term without a reason and with only two months’ notice.
The continued existence of no fault evictions in England under Section 21 plunges the country’s 11 million renters into a state of precarity. Though eviction bans acted as a lifeline during the pandemic 4,440 households were threatened with homelessness after receiving a Section 21 notice within the first three months that the ban was lifted.
Beyond restricting no fault evictions, Wales and Scotland also have other mechanisms to improve tenure security. The Renting Homes Act in Wales could see the end of retaliatory evictions. Landlords issuing possession notices after being asked to carry out repairs, will no longer be automatically entitled to repossess their property as the courts can treat possession grounds as discretionary.
Additionally, renters in Scotland had open-ended tenancies since 2017. This means they don’t have to worry about being locked into a contract they can’t escape if their circumstances change, or if they want to leave their contract. Within 18 months of its introduction, tenants on open-ended tenancies were half as likely as those on the old tenancy to worry about becoming homeless.
Clarifying the responsibilities of landlords
Landlords hold the keys to the ability of millions of people to access safe and fair housing. Potential tenants must provide a substantial amount of information about themselves whereas similar details about landlords are withheld. This results in a massive imbalance of power that has gone unchallenged for far too long in England.
In Scotland, landlord registration has been mandatory since 2004. What began as a legal requirement for landlords to provide minimum information about themselves has now evolved so that landlords must also confirm that they are providing safe, quality and well-managed homes. Landlords are obliged to register with the local council where their property is located or face criminal charges, and the register is made fully accessible to the public. During the pandemic the landlord register revealed another important function of acting as a communication tool.
Since 2015, all landlords in Wales are also required to register themselves and their properties with Rent Smart Wales, a licensing and registration scheme created to strengthen standards in the private renting sector. Similarly to Scotland, landlords in Wales must declare that they are a ‘fit and proper person’. However, Rent Smart Wales presses further demands for landlords to attend mandatory basic training as well as professional development training every five years in order to obtain a licence.
Despite these commendable reforms, Scotland and Wales have both shown that legislation alone is not enough. Both countries still have some way to go to bring forth stronger enforcement, and ensure local authorities have enough resources to deal with unfit landlords.
Still, at least they’ve began the work. England is now the only country in the UK without a landlord register. This creates a gap of accountability whereby landlords are not held to duties and standards that can radically transform the experience for renters across the country.
We’re glad to see the Levelling Up White Paper that was published on 2 February this year, highlight the need for urgent reforms to the private renting sector, including the end of Section 21 and a landlord register. Now we need urgent action. Renters in Wales and Scotland already have stronger rights, why shouldn’t we?