Renters’ Reform; or is it?

May 31, 2023
Tom Seabrook


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It was around 6 years ago that the then government announced their plans to truly reform the private rented sector in England (Wales by and large has its own rules). That announcement was by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the name has changed almost as often as the incumbent Secretary of State since.

It is probably no surprise then that the recent policy announcement by the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities as it is now known, was not the clean sweep many expected and/or hoped for but is more tinkering with the good old Housing Act 1988 (“HA”) which introduced the concept of Assured Tenancies as the default for short residential tenancies (with one or two exceptions).

Over time, an amendment was introduced to change that default to Assured Shorthold Tenancies (“AST’s”) and it is the effective reversal of that which has polarised the press and interest groups.

The big news in the Renters’ Reform Bill then is the removal of Section 21 of the HA which was the part that allowed landlords to give 2 months’ notice to terminate an AST without any reason being given or required.

The reality is that landlords have increasingly been held to very strict compliance with all the various requirements before a court would order possession under section 21. In particular, the Court of Appeal has held that a landlord who cannot demonstrate the provision of a gas safety certificate at the outset of the tenancy cannot fix this later. This causes problems for parties who have perhaps bought a portfolio of tenanted properties with incomplete information.

Naturally, there is a balance to be had between the interests of landlords and tenants and time will show how matters pan out once the legislation takes effect which could be a year or two away.

But crucially, the amending legislation introduces two new grounds for possession, namely where the landlord wants to sell the property or where it is to be occupied by the landlord or a close(ish) family member.

It remains to be seen what evidence of these intentions will be required but, perhaps sensing some room for abuse, landlords will be unable to relet a property for 3 months after obtaining possession by one or another of these grounds. Neither ground will be available during the first 6 months of any tenancy.

The fact that landlords may not reasonably refuse consent for tenants to keep a pet has also been well publicised although there is an exemption where the landlord itself needs consent which is not forthcoming, and there will be provisions for insurance and/or indemnities in relation to damage by pets (we’ll have to see whether this includes the smell of wet gundog which never goes away but not everyone enjoys).

Inevitably there will be a further tightening of regulation, increased fines and criminal sanctions for non-compliance together with a proposed mandatory ombudsman system for landlords and a compulsory landlord register that every landlord will have to sign up to before it can legally let a property.

On a proper reading and with some of the detail still to come it is these aspects rather than the abolition of section 21 that might cause concern to landlords as there should not be many reasonable reasons to seek possession that are not covered by the new expanded grounds.

Some of it remains a little wishy washy like the proposals to make it easier to obtain possession due to anti-social behaviour by tenants. Changing time limits is unlikely to help. The kind of relatively low-level neighbour annoying, but not criminal, activity is likely to remain difficult in practice.

A court order will still be required to remove those tenants who do not leave voluntarily (and any tenants who will need rehousing will still need that order to avoid being classed as voluntarily homeless and thus ineligible), and it has long been the courts that have been the brake on obtaining possession from tenants who do not leave on notice. A properly funded housing court would make a much bigger difference to the sector than more tinkering with the HA.

There is some way to go with the revised legislation and perhaps more tinkering to come but please get in touch with any concerns or comments.

Find out more about Tom Seabrook’s practice or get in touch here.

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