On May 17, the government finally published its long-awaited Renters Reform Bill. This bill has been over four years in the making and, if the government gets these reforms right, it will be a gamechanger for private renters: finally giving us the security we need to put down roots in our homes and communities.
The bill has been introduced to the House of Commons and we now must wait for its second reading. That’s the first opportunity for MPs to debate the broad principles of the bill and make their arguments about what they believe the bill should do. After that point, the bill is scrutinised further and can be amended by MPs. You can follow all of this on our live blog, which we’ll be keeping updated with crucial information and explainers throughout the bill’s passage through parliament.
As we wait for the Renters Reform Bill’s next stage, here’s our take on the legislation so far. This is a two-part blog: this part looks at the aspects of the bill we’re excited about and the sections we’re still waiting for, whilst part two explores the areas of the bill we’d like to see strengthened and changed.
Which parts of the Renters Reform Bill will make the most difference for private renters?
There is plenty in the Renters Reform Bill for the millions of us renting in England to be hopeful about. Here’s everything in the bill that we’re excited about so far:
• Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions will finally be abolished
The government first promised to scrap this unfair form of eviction over four years ago. In the current system, private renters can be evicted with just eight weeks’ notice at any point after a fixed-term tenancy ends. The landlord does not need to give (or even have) a reason for the eviction. The looming fear of being evicted for no reason means renters will often put up with disrepair, poor conditions, and dangerous hazards instead of raising complaints. The Renters Reform Bill will change this. Once section 21 is scrapped, landlords will need to give a valid reason for an eviction. Renters will finally have the security they need in their homes to raise complaints without the ever-present fear of receiving an eviction notice. But as the bill also makes changes to the other ways renters can be evicted, there’s a risk that unfair ’no fault’ evictions remain surreptitiously possible.
• Fixed-term tenancies will be replaced with periodic (or rolling) tenancies
All tenancies will become open-ended or rolling tenancies. In the current system, renters usually sign up for a fixed term period at the start of a tenancy – usually six months or a year. While this gives a degree of stability, renters may find themselves locked into yearlong agreements on rentals that are poor quality or in a state of dangerous disrepair, with a landlord refusing to fix it. You could also find yourself locked into a tenancy that is no longer suitable if your circumstances change, for example, if a relationship breaks down, if you lose or change jobs, or you need to move to another area. Essentially, fixed-term tenancies can be too rigid and lock renters into contracts that they can no longer afford or in places they no longer wish to be. The new system will give renters much-needed flexibility and, when coupled with protections against unfair evictions, more security too.
• A new property portal will create a landlord register to which it will be mandatory for landlords to register themselves.
The bills sets out plans to introduce a property portal that private landlords will be legally required to register themselves and their properties to, bringing England in line with the rest of the UK. This will help local authorities crack down on criminal landlords and make it easier for good landlords to keep up to date with the latest regulations and their obligations. It will also enable tenants to hold their landlord to account, and check their home meets vital safety standards before entering a tenancy agreement. The bill leaves a lot of the detail up to the government to figure out at a later date, presumably so that it can be flexible to changes in laws and advances in technology. But this does mean we’ll be keeping a close watch on what the government promises to do with it.
• A new Ombudsman for the private rented sector will be introduced
The government promises that this will give renters a speedier resolution to grievances and will be free for private renters to use. It will be mandatory for landlords to join the Ombudsman, which will have the power to deliver fines to landlords of up to £25,000. If properly enforced and well-resourced, this will be an important way to drive up standards in the private rented sector.
• All private renters will have the right to request a pet and the landlord cannot unreasonably refuse this request
We’re pleased to see this has been included: having a pet can bring so much joy to our lives and help us put down roots in our home. Plus, no one should be turned away from renting a home simply for having a pet.
What are we still waiting for?
As with other pieces of government legislation, not everything has been published at first reading – and we’re still waiting for some crucial commitments to be introduced as part of the Renters Reform Bill. The government has committed to bring forward legislation “at the earliest opportunity” to:
• make it directly illegal for landlords and agents to have blanket bans against people who receive benefits or have children
Shelter’s landmark court wins have already proved that “No DSS” adverts and blanket bans are unlawful indirect discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. But as it stands, renters facing income discrimination can only make a legal challenge if they have a protected characteristic that is disproportionately affected by blanket bans. The Renters Reform Bill must change this by introducing the first-ever direct prohibition on discriminating against people due to their financial status or circumstances, making blanket bans unlawful outright. We will be pushing to make sure this is introduced to the legislation as soon as possible.
• apply the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector
This is part of the government’s commitment to halve the number of non-decent homes across all rented tenures by 2030. To be ‘decent’, a home must be free from the most serious health and safety hazards, such as fall risks, fire risks, or carbon monoxide poisoning. We’re still waiting for more information about what the Decent Homes Standard will look like, as the government has not yet responded to its consultation. In Shelter’s consultation response last year, we made it clear that for the Decent Homes Standard to be effective, it needs to be joined up with existing regulations, and councils need the tools and funding to enforce the standards properly.
• strengthen local councils’ enforcement powers and introduce a new requirement for councils to report on enforcement activity
We need to make sure the Renters Reform Bill has the teeth to enact meaningful change, which will only be possible if local authorities have the resource and capacity to drive out criminal landlords and enforce good standards.
The Renters Reform Bill has the potential to change the lives of millions of private renters. If enacted well and properly enforced, it will give renters genuine security in our homes. But it has a long way to go before it becomes law.
Ask your MP to stand up for private renters and push for the strongest possible version of the Renters Reform Bill to be passed into law.