We're very grateful to Which?, the consumer rights organisation, for their latest investigation into letting agents. A mystery-shopping exercise, targeting 20 agents around the country, revealed practices that potentially breach the law: from denying would-be tenants the opportunity to review terms and conditions before putting down money, to opaque fees.
This piece of work is particularly useful because it gives tenants an idea of what bad practice to watch out for (and challenge) the next time you're trying to find a new home. Here's what they found...
After the Government announced they will scrap section 21 'no fault' evictions and introduce open-ended tenancies, the End Unfair Evictions campaign coalition took a moment to celebrate. But the reality is that there is still much work to do. This sea change in tenancy law and renter rights will not happen straight away. First there will be a consultation (out 'shortly') on what the new open-ended tenancy model will look like, including legitimate possession grounds. Generation Rent will be talking to tenants, landlords and government to get the detail of the new tenancy right.
Once the consultation period closes, the government will have to confirm the design of the new tenancy and prepare a Bill to enact this in legislation. The earliest this legislation could be introduced into Parliament is likely Autumn. Although tenancy reform now has cross-party support, there’s the potential for this Bill to take some time to pass, especially given how much Parliamentary time Brexit needs. If the legislation is passed in 2020, it won’t be implemented immediately.
The Government will scrap section 21, ending ‘no fault’ evictions in England that have caused misery and hardship for millions of private renters and eroded our communities. This morning's announcement also said insecure fixed-term tenancies will go and a new, open-ended tenancy will be created.
“Deposit-free” schemes on the market can cost as much as £864 for a two year tenancy in non-refundable costs to tenants, new product analysis and cost comparison by Generation Rent shows. And if the landlord makes a claim for deductions at the end of the tenancy, that figure can rise much higher.
The ban on letting fees is coming – from 1 June, renters in England (including licensees and property guardians as well as tenants) will not have to pay fees for admin, references or inventory to move into a new home. Just the rent and refundable deposits.
This should have a huge impact – not only on renters’ finances, but on their relationship with the landlord and agent too. If the landlord isn’t fixing something or is asking for a higher rent, the tenant is in a stronger negotiating position because it is now cheaper for them to move out instead. Faced with the prospect of a tenantless property, the landlord is more likely to capitulate.
But letting agents are a crafty bunch – their ability to invent fees out of thin air is why we’ve got to this point. And many are willing to break the law – our research on lettingfees.co.uk found that 12% of agents weren’t publishing their fees, in breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
The demographics of renters has changed so much over the last decade that we could now pluralise our name to Generations Rent. We’re very much conscious of the trend of older people privately renting, which will continue for the foreseeable future, so we were pleased to be invited to speak at Age UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on ageing and older people which is holding an inquiry into older people’s housing. This session focused specifically on older tenants in the private rented sector and how housing impacts their physical, mental and social wellbeing.
Generation Rent’s 2019 survey of private renters has just closed, so we crunched the responses and pulled out some findings specifically relating to older renters to share at the event. We received over a thousand survey responses in total, and 32% of responses were from tenants aged 55 or older, with 17.5% aged 65 or over.
In December 2017, Scotland introduced the open-ended Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) and powers for councils to introduce Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) to protect tenants from rising rents.
As we await the Westminster government’s announcement on security of tenure for private renters in England, this is a good moment to look back at the Scottish tenancy reforms and consider what’s worked well, what’s not so good, and where next for the Scottish private renter movement.
Dangerous, broken stairs, or mouldy walls making your family ill? What do you do if the landlord won’t make sure your home is safe? Private renters can contact their council, who have a responsibility to enforce housing safety standards. The council should investigate complaints and if they find a serious hazard, take enforcement action against the landlord, which triggers protection against revenge eviction for the tenant.
But new analysis by Generation Rent shows that just one in every 20 renters who complains to the council about poor conditions gets protection from a revenge eviction. Even when a severe hazard is found, tenants only get protection from eviction in 1 in every 5 cases.
Fergus and Judith Wilson own over 700 properties. They are among Britain’s biggest private landlords, owning entire streets in some parts of Kent. Ever since their decision, in 2014, to evict all tenants on housing benefits - even those who had never been in arrears on their rent - their names have been synonymous with controversy.
Now, the Wilsons have decided to cash in on their estimated £250m property portfolio, to settle down and “take life easy”. They reckon that it’s easier and more profitable for landlords to sell properties without tenants in-situ. So the Wilson’s have started the process of evicting their tenants in preparation for the sale.
Almost all the couples’ properties are two or three bedroom new builds, and many are home to young families. By law, the Wilsons only have to give the tenants two months’ notice of eviction. Some might manage to find new homes in this time. But many landlords are notoriously unwilling to offer tenancies to families on low incomes, meaning the most vulnerable will struggle. The chances of so many people finding suitable new homes are slim. Still less, homes nearby their employers, schools and support networks. Many must fear homelessness, and could be forced to turn to an already stretched council for support.
There’s been some good news this month for people facing discrimination in the private rental market – because of how they pay their rent, or because of who they are.
Buy-to-let mortgage conditions
First, Natwest announced that it would lift “all restrictions on landlords renting to tenants who are in receipt of housing benefits”.