How can we make sure the Renters Reform Bill delivers real change for private renters?

Published: by Reshima Sharma

A close up photo showing the top of Big Ben in London

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.

As we wait for the Renters Reform Bill’s next stage, here’s Shelter’s take on the legislation so far. This is the second of a two-part blog focusing on the parts of the bill we need to see strengthened and changed – the first part of this blog post goes through the areas of the bill we’re excited about and the sections we’re still waiting for.

Which parts of the Renters Reform Bill need to be strengthened?

The Renters Reform Bill is a big step forward for renters and there is a lot for renters and campaigners to celebrate. But there are important parts of the bill that need to be changed before it is robust enough to genuinely make private renting safer, fairer, and more secure for renters.

1) Notice periods are still only eight weeks long and need to be longer

When section 21 is abolished, landlords will still be able to evict their tenants if they want to sell up or decide to move themselves (or a family member) into the property. These grounds for eviction are new or amended ‘landlord need’ grounds – and a landlord will only be required to give eight weeks’ notice to use these grounds for eviction.

We know that this is not long enough to find a new home for many renters, particularly for low-income households in areas of high demand and high rents. Section 21 is a leading cause of homelessness, and short notice periods contribute to that. We need notice periods to be lengthened to four months to protect private renters against upheaval and to give people long enough to find a suitable, new place to live.

2) Renters need more protection when entering a tenancy agreement

In the new proposals, landlords will be able to use the ‘landlord need’ grounds to evict their tenant after an initial ‘protected period’. This period is six months long but includes a two-month notice period – meaning tenants could be served an eviction notice after just four months of signing a tenancy agreement.

This is a step back from the security renters currently get with a fixed-term contract and gives renters very little certainty that they won’t be forced to look for a new place to live within just a few months of signing a contract.

If a landlord chooses to rent out their property, they should be clear that renting to someone is a long-term commitment. Private renters should have a protected period of two years at the start of a tenancy agreement, during which time a landlord cannot serve an eviction notice unless the tenancy agreement has been breached.

Six months is nowhere near long enough to give private renters the security they need in their homes or to help them build up the funds necessary to cover the high costs of moving, and the government itself initially proposed a two-year protected period when it first consulted on these reforms back in 2019.

3) Every loophole for unfair evictions must be closed

Section 21 evictions are a leading cause of homelessness, and we cannot allow unfair evictions to continue to happen through the backdoor when this unfair, outdated form of eviction is finally scrapped. That means the new grounds for eviction must be watertight.

In the current proposals, a landlord could evict a tenant because they claim to want to sell up or move themselves or a family member in, but after just three months the property can be put back on the rental market. This could encourage unscrupulous landlords to abuse the grounds and continue to carry out unfair evictions.

Three months without rent is not long enough to disincentivise misuse of the grounds. We want this ‘no let’ period lengthened to a year, with a high evidence threshold and robust penalties for landlords who are found to have misused these grounds in order to unfairly evict their tenants.

Which parts of the Renters Reform Bill is Shelter worried about?

The government has said that it wants to strengthen landlord powers to evict anti-social tenants by broadening the reasons that can lead to eviction and making it easier to evict those that are causing ‘nuisance or annoyance’. We’re worried that this could expose renters to unfair evictions once section 21 is scrapped.

Without strong safeguards in place, there is a real risk that these grounds for eviction could be abused to evict tenants for false or unfair interpretations of ’nuisance or annoyance’. This is particularly concerning because there is no minimum notice period relating to these grounds – meaning a landlord can apply to court as soon as they give notice. Without high evidence thresholds, a tenant could be vulnerable to false allegations and be left with very little protection to contest them.

We’re also worried that in its current form, the Renters Reform Bill risks undermining the government’s commitment to prevent homelessness and end rough sleeping. The bill includes amendments to homelessness legislation which mean that private renters who receive a notice will no longer have the right to immediate help from the council if they are evicted from their homes and face homelessness. Instead, it will be left to the discretion of the council to decide when a person is threatened with homelessness. This could waste precious time in which people could get vital assistance to avoid eviction, including help sorting out their arrears or finding a suitable alternative home.

We urgently need to see the Renters Reform Bill amended to make sure private renters have the right to get help from their local council from the moment their landlord serves notice.

What next?

If the government gets the Renters Reform Bill right, it will change the lives of millions of private renters – giving us genuine security in our homes and driving up standards across the sector. But the bill has a long way to go before it becomes law and we need to make sure MPs pass the strongest version possible of the legislation.

Ask your MP to speak up for renters’ rights at the bill’s second reading debate – join the campaign.

Catch up on part one of this blog post