Will the Renters Reform Bill do anything to help the UK’s rental market – and tenants?

An image of renters reform bill rental signs tenants
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The Renters Reform Bill was introduced to Parliament last month. It will bring some long-overdue reform to England’s housing laws, and protections for tenants. For example, the bill will put an end to Section 21 no-fault evictions, as well as blanket bans on pets in rental properties. It will also:

  • End fixed-term tenancies.
  • Introduce an ombudsman for tenant-landlord disputes.
  • Create a Property Portal that landlords must register properties on – providing tenants with greater transparency. 

The reforms have been a long time in the making. They were first proposed in 2019 by the then-prime minister Theresa May. Campaigners and housing charities like Shelter and Generation Rent have welcomed the bill. However, it also attracted criticism from landlords, with many industry bodies warning it will cause uncertainty within the market.

The Renters Reform Bill is a welcome step in the right direction. However, it does not address many of the core issues affecting the rental market. For example, there are no provisions to address rental affordability. The bill also broadens the definition of ‘antisocial behaviour’ required for eviction. This could make it more difficult for renters to challenge unfair evictions. 

The UK’s rental crisis

The cost of living crisis means many households are facing rising energy bills and food costs. When combined with increasingly steep rent hikes and a nationwide housing shortage, there is little respite for tenants who are struggling to meet these costs.

Not only are new tenants paying more, but new data shows that many existing tenants are experiencing rent increases mid-tenancy. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that half (50.6%) of the households it surveyed had experienced a rent increase since February 2022. This was up from 36% in the previous year.

Meanwhile, Section 21 gives landlords the power to evict tenants at the end of the period specified in their rental agreement with only two months’ notice. They do not have to provide a reason. This means that once a fixed-term tenancy switches to a rolling one, tenants face the possibility of being evicted through no fault of their own. 

Section 21 also has the potential to be misused by landlords for retaliatory evictions. This is where landlords evict tenants after they’ve requested repair work or complained about the property’s condition. 

Read on...

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In the four years since Theresa May first promised to end no-fault evictions, almost 65,000 households in the UK have faced homelessness after receiving a Section 21 notice. In 2022, the number of Section 21 evictions by bailiffs rose by a staggering 143%.

What does the Renters Reform Bill mean for tenants?

The bill’s abolition of Section 21 evictions would mean tenants no longer have to fear landlords evicting them on short notice. Of course, this is provided they comply with the terms of their rental contract. However, the bill in its current form contains several loopholes. Landlords could exploit these in the absence of Section 21. 

For instance, the bill adds new grounds under which landlords can serve Section 8 notices. These relate to breaches of the tenancy agreement. On top of the existing grounds for serving Section 8 notices, the new grounds include the landlord:

  • Selling the property.
  • Moving in a family member.
  • Selling social housing as part of the Rent to Buy scheme. 

It also introduces a three-month waiting period for landlords re-letting a property after evicting tenants on the basis that they want to sell or move in. In theory, a landlord with no mortgage repayments to make could issue a Section 8 notice on these grounds. They could then wait three months and put the property back on the market with minimal financial loss.

The bill also broadens the definition of ‘antisocial behaviour’ from behaviour “likely to cause” a nuisance or annoyance to “behaviours ‘capable of causing’ a nuisance or annoyance”. Landlords could interpret this definition loosely, and there’s little protection for tenants facing false allegations. 

Addressing rental affordability: the Renters Reform Bill is lacking

Rent prices in the UK are rising at their fastest rate in 14 years, and the market is showing no signs of slowing down. The Renters Reform Bill contains no provisions to curb this rise.

A shortage of available housing means that the demand for rental properties is higher than the supply available. Therefore, landlords can afford to charge higher prices. And, according to Zoopla, the supply of rental properties is likely to stay static in 2023.

So, rent prices have become increasingly unaffordable for a large percentage of the population. Yet the government has resisted calls to introduce rent controls. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has approved a rent cap of 3%, meaning that landlords in Scotland cannot increase rents mid-tenancy by more than 3%. However, landlords can apply for larger increases of up to 6% if they wish. 

Bristol City Council has been looking at how rent controls are implemented in other cities in an attempt to address the city’s increasingly unaffordable rental market. There, prices are rising faster than the national average, elevating Bristol to the UK’s third most expensive city to rent in. Although local councils do not currently have the ability to introduce rent controls, Bristol Council is preparing to ask Westminster for extra powers to do this. 

The future for renters’ rights in the UK

The Renters Reform Bill had its first reading in Parliament on 17 May. It’s currently awaiting its second reading. There are still many stages before it becomes law. Plus, there will likely be amendments and changes to the wording along the way. 

Given the reaction from landlords and reports of concerned MPs – who are landlords themselves – there is a danger that this potentially game-changing legislation could be watered down without sufficient public scrutiny or pressure. If the bill passes through parliament in its current form, it will provide tenants with much-needed security and greater protection against eviction. 

Even then, there are still major structural issues in the UK’s rental market that the bill does not fully address. Ideally, this bill would be the beginning of a fairer, more transparent system that provides tenants with the security and protection they need to settle down in communities without fearing unfair evictions. Whether that will be the case or not remains to be seen. 

Featured image via Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

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