Mayor of London backs indefinite tenancies

At the Labour party conference this week, delegates adopted a motion to (among other things) "Help private renters with an end to ‘no fault’ evictions, controls on rents and new minimum standards, including three year tenancies as standard." 

The BBC reported on this commitment, but beyond the wording of this motion and John Healey's speech, we haven't had any more detail of what this would entail. 

Luckily, Sadiq Khan has obliged. While the Mayor of London is not a member of the Shadow Cabinet, last week's publication of his response to the government's consultation on longer tenancies revealed that he is calling for much the same thing, plus some more idea of what it might look like in practice.

The response sat alongside an outline of the Mayor’s ‘London Model’ blueprint for private tenancy reform - this was one of his manifesto commitments in 2016. With 2.4 million private renters and 62% of Section 21 evictions occurring in London, the Mayor is no stranger to the urgent need for greater security for private renters in their own homes.

The Government consultation proposed a three year tenancy with a break clause at six months, tenants able to leave with two months’ notice at any point following the break point, and new grounds for landlords to evict during the tenancy in order to sell or move back into the property. Generation Rent's response is also available here.

Like us, the Mayor said that the proposals represent some improvement on the status quo, but must go further to truly give renters the security needed. In addition, and crucially, they must be mandated in legislation rather than simply another ineffective voluntary measure.

He calls for open-ended tenancies, as recently introduced in Scotland, and questions the value of fixed-term tenancies - putting him at odds with national Labour policy. The response points out that the government's model would leave tenants less confident to request repairs in periods leading up to the break clause or end of the tenancy. It also makes the point that, hearing about three year tenancies, many renters worry about being locked in for the full time period. While tenants would have the flexibility to leave during the proposed three year tenancy, this flexibility is actually easier to communicate with an open-ended tenancy.

With the majority of Section 21 evictions taking place in the capital, it’s right that ending them is a key part of the London Model. The Mayor rightly recognises that evictions with no reason given are unfair and damaging to individuals and our communities. In this recent ITV London news report on revenge evictions Deputy Mayor for Housing James Murray called for an end to no-fault evictions. It’s clear that support for our End Unfair Evictions campaign is growing and great to have City Hall backing our call.

Currently, Section 21 notices can only be issued after the fixed term of the tenancy ends and it becomes a rolling contract. Most tenancy agreements are 12 months, but many are the legal minimum of six months. The Government’s three year tenancy proposal suggests that new grounds could be introduced for a landlord to evict tenants during the fixed term if they wish to move back in or sell.

City Hall agrees that landlords should be able to recover their properties if their circumstances change and they need to sell or move back in. We’re pleased to see that the response demands that robust conditions of proof are met in such circumstances, to ensure these grounds aren’t abused by bad landlords and allow for revenge evictions and rent hikes.

The London Model outline highlights the need to mitigate disruption to tenants evicted on "no fault" grounds, although no detail is provided on what this should look like. We suggest that blameless tenants evicted on these grounds should have a six month notice period and compensation which could be set at three months’ rent. This would significantly reduce the burden on tenants of an unwanted house move and support with the difficulties of finding suitable, affordable accommodation in a high-pressured housing market. It would also incentivise landlords to sell with sitting tenants and nudges those wishing to move back in to consider whether they should rent elsewhere (or put this aside as a business cost when they first move out).

While the London Model shows promise as a policy package that could really help private renters, the Mayor has no implementation powers. It would be great to see the Mayor doing some creative thinking on how to use education and market influence to encourage landlord to landlord sales. Boosting the numbers would reduce churn and upheaval for renters - though we would still need fundamental protections to give renters greater security than they have now.

Finally, the Mayor highlights concerns about rent increases being written into tenancy agreements. Many tenants, particularly those whose choices are restricted or for whom English is not their first language, might easily find themselves bound by a contract locking in high annual increases. The response recognises that rent certainty is key to security, though the GLA is yet to consider what rent stabilisation measures would be appropriate. That said, it also highlights the inability of limits on rent rises to address fundamental unaffordability - a particular problem in London - which, tantalisingly leaves the door open to more radical proposals.

Overall the Mayor's response to the government’s proposals is strong, demonstrating a good grasp of the issues, asking the right questions to increase security of tenure, and going at least a little bit further than his party colleagues in Westminster to set out a vision of a fairer tenancy system.

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