Our big campaign has been to End Section 21 and bring in a new system of tenancies that gives tenants protection from unfair evictions and unreasonable rent increases. We’re campaigning alongside ACORN, London Renters Union and New Economics Foundation, with our own End Unfair Evictions website.
The case for reform has gathered steam this year – our research has demonstrated the link between no-fault evictions and homelessness levels, the continued risk of revenge evictions and the shortcomings of landlords’ objections, while our polling showed public support for a fairer system. The abolition of Section 21 now has support from homelessness and poverty charities, the Times, the Resolution Foundation think tank, several local councils, the Mayor of London and the Labour party.
The government published its own proposals for longer tenancies in the summer and thousands of renters responded to its consultation. We’re still waiting to hear what they’ve decided but there are fears that disagreement in the Cabinet is holding things up. We have kept the issue on the agenda and worked with Karen Buck MP to have the issue debated earlier this month where MPs from all parties agreed on the need for reform.
Check out our latest campaign video:
A more immediate victory is the long-awaited letting fees ban, which has just a couple of stages left in Parliament before it becomes law. The Tenant Fees Bill was approved unanimously by both Houses of Parliament, but there has still been a lot of detail to get right. With Shelter and Citizens Advice, we have been scrutinising the Bill throughout the year and pressing the government to tighten up exemptions where a tenant defaults on their agreement, reduce the cap on security deposits, and prevent abuse of holding deposits.
Earlier this month the government accepted our demands and we now wait for peers and MPs to sign the whole thing off. We’re expecting the ban to be in place by spring, and will be doing what we can to ensure that renters understand their new rights and how to enforce them.
Another big cost involved in moving is finding a new deposit when your current one is already tied up with your existing tenancy. We published a report in March on how the deposit protection system is working and how we should change it to allow passporting of deposits and do something more productive with the £4bn of tenants’ money (most of which lies in letting agents’ bank accounts). We are now working with Ministry of Housing, the protection schemes and other industry groups to agree improvements.
Although rents are falling in parts of the country, the sheer cost of the private sector continues to be too high for too many renters. In October the government finally agreed to ease restrictions on councils’ borrowing so that they can build more homes and end our reliance on private developers.
Despite the current lack of social housing, a state-owned bank, Natwest, bans its buy-to-let customers from letting to people who claim housing benefit. We, Shelter, ACORN, London Renters Union and Living Rent Scotland – not to mention a landlord who was stung by Natwest’s rules – have been putting pressure on the bank to do the right thing.
One in seven private rented homes is unsafe, containing hazards to health such as mould, carbon monoxide leaks and faulty electrics. Despite councils’ responsibility to enforce standards, most are leaving too many complaints from tenants unanswered and failing to take effective action when they find disrepair, as our research in June showed.
This is why we have been supporting another piece of legislation this year – Karen Buck MP’s Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill, which lets tenants take a negligent landlord to court. It offers a back-up when the council is failing in its duty – or, for council tenants, when the landlord cannot enforce against itself. The Bill is due to clear its final hurdle in the House of Lords today!
In April the government launched its Secret Landlord Blacklist and gave councils powers to ban criminal landlords. But because only offences committed since April count, and the courts system is so slow, no landlords have been banned or blacklisted yet. For an indication, one of the country’s most notorious landlords, Judith Wilson, was prosecuted this month for failing to fix her tenant’s hot water. But the incident took place in autumn last year so she’ll be free to keep letting properties out.
The government has at least agreed to follow the Mayor of London’s lead and is looking at how to open up the blacklist to the public. They are also considering whether to get all landlords to register with a redress scheme, in a consultation they ran in the spring. What would really help is for councils to introduce licensing – something we called on London councils to do in the run up to the May elections – but ultimately that needs the government to recognise how valuable the schemes are.
We go into 2019 optimistic that renters will finally be protected from rip-off fees when they move, and with more ability to challenge bad landlords. But there is clearly more work to do to give tenants more control over their home. What we have achieved this year would not have been possible without our activists, and 2019 will be no different. If you want to make a difference, please sign up today.
From the whole Generation Rent team, Merry Christmas!