The Renters (Reform) Bill is finally moving forward. After months in deep freeze, we have seen progress in recent weeks towards making this vital Bill part of the law, protecting private tenants in England by removing Section 21 no-fault evictions. We are still a long way from seeing these changes in action, but Generation Rent is pleased that parliament seems to be back on track.
Yesterday, our Chief Executive Ben Twomey gave evidence to the committee scrutinising the Bill – you can watch this below– and the committee stage in the House of Commons will continue until 5th December. Generation Rent will be fighting on behalf of tenants throughout this process, and in the nine other stages that still need to take place before the Bill becomes law.
Today, the government chose to make some changes to the Bill, setting out 111 amendments across 92 pages. As we assess these changes in detail, here are the headlines and what they will mean for renters.
The Decent Homes Standard will be applied to the private rented sector by one of today’s amendments, signalling a long-awaited campaign success for Generation Rent. Confirmation of this is very welcome and vitally important to make sure that tenants live in homes that are classified as decent. Tenants in the social sector have access to these standards and it is high time that private renters are afforded the same rights. There will be a consultation on what the standard will include before it can be implemented, and Generation Rent will be feeding tenants’ views into this so the government get it right for all of us.
Tenants who have children or claim benefits are being offered greater protection, as the government has proposed to formally ban discrimination against them. The proposed fine for breaching this is up to £5,000, while another amendment also appears to ban landlords from using insurance which block children or benefit claimants living in a home – i.e. any insurance policy which bans children or benefit claimants is deemed invalid. Generation Rent is pleased that action has finally been taken on this issue.
Students have been much-discussed since the publication of the Renters (Reform) Bill in May, and today’s amendments from government is a large departure from the original White Paper that set out plans for the Bill. Student tenancies will now contain a ground for eviction, enforceable between June and August of every year, to keep student tenancies aligned with academic years. This will apply to HMOs in which “the tenant was a full-time student, or the landlord reasonably believed that the tenant would become a full-time student during the tenancy”. This can only be used with the “intention” of letting to another set of students the following year.
We are disappointed by this change, which will embed a two-tier system and will undermine the rights of students who do not conform to traditional term times (eg. medical students). This goes back on the government’s commitment to students upon the publication of the white paper, which said “It is important that students have the same opportunity to live in a secure home and challenge poor standards as others in the PRS (Private Rented Sector). Therefore, students renting in the general private rental market will be included within the reforms, maintaining consistency.” Reneging upon this lets down millions of student renters who will now not be subject to the security and flexibility enjoyed by other tenants. This change also represents another disappointing government concession to the landlord lobby at the expense of tenants’ rights.
New enforcement powers for local authorities are also being introduced. Fines of up to £30,000, or banning orders in the most extreme cases, will be applied for landlords who do not bring their
homes up to a decent standard. It also comes with stronger investigative powers to find rogue landlords and what the government describes as “tools to take proper enforcement action against them”, as well as powers to demand financial information from landlords which will help councils build cases. Generation Rent welcomes these changes, and the intention to “drive out” criminal and substandard landlords but the success of this will ultimately come down to the level of funding local authorities receive to carry this out.
Rent repayment orders have been a major part of Generation Rent campaigning, and we welcome the amendment stating that tenants will also be able to claim up to 24 months rent back through these orders (up from 12 previously). Rent repayment orders are crucial tools which give tenants genuine justice when they have been wronged by a landlord in the form of money back in our pockets. We believe that they will be an important tool for policing landlord behaviour when the Bill is introduced, as tenants could be incentivised to check that their landlord is not abusing the law when evicting them.
Another proposed amendment clarifies that rent repayment orders will be eligible to be paid by superior landlords, addressing a legal grey area which surrounded this. This means that where a rent repayment order is owed, it is the ultimate owner of the property who is liable to pay. This is complemented by the Bill’s introduction of the property portal, a national register of landlords – a long-time Generation Rent campaign demand. This amendment working alongside the portal should allow tenants swifter and fairer access to their money when they have been wronged by a landlord.
Some changes to regulations surrounding evictions for anti-social behaviour have been introduced. Most notably, tenant engagement with any landlord efforts to stop the anti-social behaviour will be taken into account when considering an eviction. It will also especially consider the impact that the behaviour has on other residents in a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). These changes do not go nearly far enough to address concerns from Generation Rent and many other organisations that the anti-social behaviour eviction ground could unintentionally and disproportionately be used against victims of domestic abuse.
Another amendment confirms that landlords will continue to be allowed to request multiple months’ rent in advance. While the amendment would guarantee that the rent would be paid back if a tenancy ends before the point that they have paid up for, this is a disappointing development which will only serve to encourage landlords to take up this incredibly damaging practise.
On the surface of it, these amendments are a mixed bag of important and positive steps, clarification of government promises, and some disappointingly missed opportunities to create a fairer private rented sector. Generation Rent will keep fighting for the best deal for renters throughout the parliamentary progression of the Renters (Reform) Bill to ensure that all tenants live in a secure, quality and affordable home.