The much-awaited Renters Reform Bill was first introduced in April 2019, to improve the rights and conditions for the numerous people who rent in the social and private rented sectors. It was also included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2022 and it looks like the proposed amendments when they come into effect, are going to change the lives of renters in a very positive way. For all those involved, including the estate agents in Sittingbourne, the proposed reform will make it easier to obtain good quality accommodation for tenants and meet other standards as well.
There are 4 main areas of reform that are proposed.
Decent Homes Standard: According to an authorised source, “more than one in five private renters in the UK live in a house that does not meet the government’s standards for decent homes.” The DLUHC (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) has said that, as part of its “Levelling Up” programme, it will try to set its standards for all rented houses in England. At present, to classify as a “decent home”, there are 4 norms to be met.
- The house cannot have a “Category 1” hazard (where there is a serious risk to a person’s safety and health) under the HHSRS (Housing Health and Safety Rating System). It should meet the minimum standards, conforming to the eradication of other hazards under the HHSRS including mould growth, dampness, excess cold, electrical issues and pests.
- The property should be in a reasonable state of repair, meaning that it should be structurally sound, safe for use and free from serious damage, rot or deterioration. If there are old parts which need repair or replacement, the house will not be in a reasonable condition.
- The house should have reasonably modern facilities and services –
- a kitchen which is less than 20 years old, with adequate space and layout,
- a bathroom which is less than 30 years old, with an appropriately located WC,
- adequate insulation against external noise,
- adequate size and layout of common entrance areas for apartment blocks.
- The house should provide thermal comfort of a reasonable degree. It is one of the indoor environmental factors which affect health and activity. Hence, it should have efficient insulation and effective heating as well.
Abolishment of Section 21 evictions: “No-fault” evictions will be banned, thus protecting tenants. Landlords can still end tenancies when they have legitimate reasons, but no longer will they be able to evict tenants suddenly, with no legal reason and with a short notice period. This will allow “security for tenants in the private rented sectors and empower them to challenge poor practice and unfair rent increases without fear of retaliatory eviction.” https://www.bigissue.com/news/housing/what-is-the-renters-reform-bill-and-how-will-it-change-things-for-renters/
For landlords, the reform will strengthen their grounds for repossession of their property for legitimate reasons.
Registration with a new private rented property portal: All landlords will have to register with a new private rented property portal. This will result in collective information about properties in one particular area. It will make it easier to enforce target standards also. In addition, it will make private landlords understand their rights and obligations and, in turn, provide tenants with more details on properties they are looking at, with information on the landlords’ responsibilities, so that they can make informed decisions about renting a property.
Introduction of a new PRS (private rented sector) Ombudsman: It is proposed that a new PRS Ombudsman will be introduced covering all PRS landlords who rent out a property, giving their tenants full access to redress. The portal will help settle disputes between landlords and private renters quickly, without going to court, and at a lower cost. The Ombudsman will cover all landlords renting properties and ensure that, when tenants make a complaint, it is heard and the landlord will take action to set it right. This will also affect an agent’s let-only services as against those with full management of a property as, depending on the set-up, agents will also have recourse if they receive complaints about a troublesome landlord.
The Social Housing Regulation Bill will also raise the standards of social housing accommodation and help tenants by:
- Creating stronger regulations for better housing,
- Giving the Regulator more power to enforce action if failings by landlords are noticed,
- Ensuring that the landlord does not provide substandard accommodation,
- Providing transparency on the landlord’s performance, management of homes and responsibilities for compliance with safety and health requirements,
- Strengthening the economic regulation of the social housing zone, with increased protection for tenants’ homes and support of continued investment in supply.
Generation Buy to Generation Rent: Many renters are paying a large portion of their income to live in substandard accommodation. The government is hoping to change Generation Rent to Generation Buy in the Renters Reform Bill.
- The Right to Buy scheme will be extended to housing association tenants. And since social housing is important as well, the government pledges to build a new social home for each one that is sold. Currently, tenants in social housing homes are eligible to buy their homes at a discount, depending on how long they have lived there. The extension of the Right to Buy scheme would open an opportunity for a huge number of tenants who would be free to buy their homes, make improvements as they wish and add value. It would be beneficial to taxpayers as well.
- Universal Credit reforms will act as an incentive to people to work harder and save for a house deposit.
- Access to mortgage finance for first-time buyers: The proposal is to make it easier for such buyers to gain access to low deposit and low-cost finance like the 95% mortgages. Many people are earning enough to pay high rents which could go towards a mortgage deposit, but the spiralling house prices are restraining them from doing so. Inflation is making it difficult for people to save. The government has pledged to change welfare rules, so that many people who are working but also on housing benefits will be given permission to use their benefits towards a mortgage, rather than going directly towards the rent.
Conclusion: The proposals and pledges make the upcoming Renters Reform Bill a winner for tenants. The White Paper with more details is eagerly looked forward to. However, it is only when those promises are put into action that the true benefits will be seen. It may take some time, but hopefully, the Bill will become reality.