The House of Commons has read letting agent fees their last rites! This afternoon MPs voted to approve the final version of the Tenant Fees Bill signed off last week by the House of Lords.
From 1 June, private renters moving home will no longer have to pay fees to start a new tenancy in England. Agents will only be able to ask for rent, and refundable holding and security deposits (capped at 1 week’s rent and 5 weeks’ rent respectively). The only exemptions are fees to cover the cost of lost keys, late rent payments, changing the name on a tenancy or ending a tenancy early.
At the launch of the Affordable Housing Commission in October, the chair, Lord Best, a veteran of august commissions spanning the past 30 years, related an experience he’d had with one that was looking at The Future of the Family.
More than halfway into the process, its chair came to meet its sponsor (then plain old Richard Best) and admitted that they were a little behind schedule. They hadn’t managed to agree on a definition of “family”.
From the off, members of the commission – of which I am honoured to be one – are therefore highly conscious of the need to get the basics right. But not only do we need to know what “affordable” means (already the subject of much controversy in the housing world), but I think we also need to define “home”.
It's our End Of Year round-up! 2018 has been an exciting year for the campaign. Through our work - with activists, renter unions and other groups - we are closer to a safer, fairer and more secure private rental market.
Parliament’s scrutiny of the Tenant Fees Bill has exposed the common misconception that a letting agent works for both the landlord and the tenant. A letting agent is not, as David Cox, CEO of ARLA Propertymark had put it, “effectively the servant of two masters.” Letting agents typically act for only one side (usually, the landlord).
An agent’s role is to serve the interests of the person who appoints them. It is simply not possible to act loyally for two parties whose interests are at odds (e.g. when one side would rather receive higher rent and the other would rather pay less). To suggest otherwise is to contradict English statute and common law, the Property Ombudsman’s guidance, the forthcoming Tenant Fees Bill and even the Bible.
On Thursday 6th December our campaign to end unfair evictions reached the Houses of Parliament.
Labour MP Karen Buck, in partnership with the End Unfair Evictions campaign, sponsored a Westminster Hall parliamentary debate on the problems pertaining to Section 28 evictions. MPs came together to share horror stories from their constituents of evictions as well as discuss the larger power imbalances born of the constant threat of eviction many tenants live with.
Our campaign to end unfair evictions has caught the attention of Parliament. On Thursday, MPs are debating “the use of Section 21 evictions in the private rented sector”.
We’re calling for the abolition of Section 21, and the government is considering responses to its proposed three-year tenancies. This is the first opportunity MPs will have to air their views on reform, and quiz the Housing Minister, Heather Wheeler, on her department’s proposals. We’ll get a sense of what there is cross-party support for.
Ahead of the debate, we wanted to take a look at what we know about evictions and their extent. It's important to note that the problems with Section 21 go far beyond the basic number of evictions. The threat of a no-fault eviction discourages tenants from treating the property as their long term home, and even from complaining about disrepair.
Back in October, we learned that Natwest had asked one of its buy-to-let customers to either evict her tenant, who was receiving housing benefit, or pay a draconian fee to switch her mortgage.
The bank’s terms and conditions prohibited customers from letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. Yet another example of a bank discriminating against low-income households and fuelling the “No DSS” culture. But this time, 62% of the bank is owned by the government, i.e. us.
The landlord has started a petition urging the government to stop this practice by high street banks, and it’s nearly at 5000 signatures.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the Housing Act 1988 receiving Royal Assent and becoming law. The Act introduced the assured shorthold tenancy, and, with it, Section 21, the ability for landlords to evict without needing a reason.
As part of the End Unfair Evictions campaign we are calling for Section 21 to be scrapped, and demanded this in our response to the government’s recent consultation on longer tenancies. In our response we also set out how the private rental market should work once Section 21 is history.
The letting fees ban has inched closer to being law. Yesterday a Grand Committee of the House of Lords went through most of the Tenant Fees Bill, line by line. There are still potential loopholes that could leave tenants vulnerable to exploitation.
Following lobbying by ourselves, Shelter and Citizens Advice, and amendments by peers including Baroness Grender and Lord Kennedy, the government has now agreed to examine them before the Report Stage.
Despite repeated cries by the Chancellor that “your hard work has paid off”, the Autumn Budget was underwhelming in its efforts to address the housing crisis. In brief, nothing new for renters, a mixed bag for landlords, and support for first-time buyers moving into shared ownership. Several extra pots of cash for housebuilding but well short of what’s needed and nothing radical in terms of reforming the land market to funnel the proceeds of development to local communities and build more council homes.