Longer tenancies: busting some myths

Earlier this week we launched .

Achieving this is going to entail hacking through a thicket of special interests. Where it's not the landlord replacing tenants every six months, it's letting agents who want their annual renewal fee, or mortgage lenders demanding easy access to the property if the landlord does a runner.

Even deposit protection schemes - government-licensed organisations which supposedly exist to protect tenants - are throwing up roadblocks to reform by spreading misinformation.

Last week, the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), one of the three schemes, put out a press release claiming that private renters don’t want longer tenancies. Luckily it didn’t get picked up beyond the property press because it’s a load of rubbish.

They asked two questions to a self-selecting sample of tenants:

To “What is your preferred initial tenancy contract length?”, the answers broke down as follows:

  • 0-6 months – 13789, 34.60%
  • 7-12 months – 18136, 45.50%
  • 13-24 months – 3875, 9.72%
  • 25-36 months – 826, 2.07%
  • More than 36 months – 3229, 8.10%

They also asked “In general, do you think at the end of a fixed period it is better to have”:

  • A rolling contract with one month’s/two months’ notice – 27850, 69.88%
  • A new fixed term contract – 11181, 28.05%
  • Other – 824, 2.07%

For a start, 20% of private renters are clearly not being catered for by tenancies of 12 months or less – and they’re probably the most vulnerable. But this whole line of questioning is a red herring.

It’s probably true that most renters want flexibility to move out when they want, but the whole point of the long-term tenancies that are being proposed is that tenants get both the knowledge that the landlord can’t turf them out with two months’ notice, and the flexibility to leave if their circumstances demand it. I bet this wasn’t communicated to the respondents, who might reasonably decline an inflexible 3-year tenancy if they’ve just moved into a new place with a landlord of whom they know nothing.

A better question would have been about how easy it should be for landlords to kick their tenants out.

Thankfully, Shelter already did that. In 2012, when they were proposing their own Stable Rental Contract, they found that 66% of private renters would like to have the option to stay in their tenancy longer term if they wanted to. A complete contradiction of DPS’s claim, and one that actually makes sense.

It is, of course, in DPS’s interests to promote their fantasy about tenant desires when the company benefits directly from churn in the lettings market. Every time a tenant moves, that’s another fee they stand to pocket if they protect the new deposit.

When we’re trying to create a market that works for the consumer, let’s listen to them and be wary of people with an ulterior motive.

Instead of worrying about whether a 3- or 5-year tenancy is the best way forward, we just need to start protecting tenants who face a no-fault eviction, and thereby deter landlords from exercising Section 21. This will create longer tenancies by default – and ones that work for families and temporary workers alike.

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