The Renting Homes Act for Wales passed through the Assembly at the end of 2015, but the end result was quite different from the initial Bill.
The Welsh Assembly has 60 Assembly Members (AMs) but the Welsh Labour Government only holds 30 of those seats. That means that every Bill has to have approval from one of the opposition parties – Plaid or the Lib Dems– or it won’t go through.
The Bill originally proposed to remove the 6-month moratorium, the small amount of security tenants have to not be evicted within the first 6 months of a tenancy. Removing it was supposed to ‘increase flexibility’ for landlords and ‘high risk’ tenants; it’s worrying Welsh Government thought 6 months was too rigid. Thankfully this faced significant opposition, both from the housing sector and from Plaid. Let Down, Shelter and Citizens Advice campaigned against it and thanks to an eventual deal between Plaid and Labour, this was removed from the final Bill.
Another ill-thought through idea was to allow 16 and 17 year olds to rent privately, but with no safeguards such as social service oversight. Whilst many were not against the principle, Let Down and others pointed to 16 year olds’ vulnerability and that most landlords would not want responsibility for them. Luckily, Plaid also ensured this was removed from the Bill.
So we’ve got an Act that simplifies tenancies into just two types of contract (one for social housing and one for the private sector) with a mandatory ‘Key Matters’ statement setting out tenant and landlord obligations; requires properties to be ‘fit for human habitation’ (although what this means will be prescribed in regulations yet to be written); and attempts to tackle ‘revenge evictions’ by creating new rules for courts to follow, so it will be up to a judge to decide if an eviction was retaliatory.
All of this has to be seen in the context of the Housing (Wales) Act, passed in 2014. This brought in licensing of all landlords and agents in Wales through ‘Rent Smart Wales’. Their work is only really just beginning, but it’s a move in the right direction. It seems that England is only just catching up with this in their Housing and Planning Bill that will create a database of all criminal landlords.
Let Down campaigned for the Residential Property Tribunal to be expanded and act more as a mediator between tenants and landlords. Whilst we weren’t successful this time, the Lib Dems adopted this (and our other asks) into their manifesto so if they were to form a coalition from May, some of these should be implemented.
Plaid Cymru also tried an interesting amendment where Ministers could have powers over letting agent fees. Again, this was not agreed by government, but looking ahead to future coalitions it’s good to see Plaid going in this direction.
For more information on the debate, check out Let Down’s blog. Overall, it’s a start, but there’s much more to be done. We’ll be keeping a particular close eye on the ‘fitness for human habitation’ standards, to be set after the election. Many AMs criticised this an unambitious standard – we’ll see who’s in government to decide on May 6th!
Liz Smith runs Let Down Wales