The tabling of the Renters’ Reform Bill this week begins the formal process of scrutinising the government’s proposals, which already feel as if they have been debated endlessly.
As peers and MPs gear up for the parliamentary tussles ahead, industry reactions are piling up in my inbox. These missives range from warm welcomes to dire warnings.
Among the more optimistic is the Local Government Association (LGA). Housing spokesperson councillor Darren Rodwell said the end of no-fault evictions would help tackle homelessness, that the introduction of an ombudsman for the private rented sector was welcome and that mandatory landlord registration via the Property Portal would help councils weed out rogue landlords.
This felt like an assessment roughly equivalent to reading the label on the tin, ignoring how many worms might lurk inside.
At the other end of the spectrum, British Landlords Association chief executive Sajjad Ahmad saw little but worms, calling the reform bill “a disaster” and predicting it would serve only to worsen the housing crisis.
Between these extremes lie a host of opinions focusing on particular aspects of the bill and the likely consequences. Those that struck home for me tended to focus on details.
Samantha Kempe, co-founder of investment platform IMMO, pondered the proposed extension of social housing’s Decent Homes Standard to the whole of the private rented sector. “How will homes that are non-decent be upgraded? And who will pay for this?” she asked. “The answer clearly isn’t buy-to-let landlords, who are already struggling with a weight of regulatory and tax changes, and it is unlikely to be the government given the state of public finances.” She went on to suggest that the new standard ought to come with support for public-private partnerships to tackle the work.
Solicitor Ian Narbeth of law firm DMH Stallard, meanwhile, drilled down into the detail of the abolition of Section 21 no-fault evictions, and the balancing addition of new grounds for court-enforced evictions.
“Tenant groups […] should be careful what they wish for,” Narbeth cautioned, noting that the proposals would likely increase the number of tenants taken to court for rent arrears, with the eventual prospect of county court judgments “wrecking their credit referencing and meaning that when they apply to the council for a home they will be considered to be ‘intentionally homeless’”.
He added: “Behind most so-called ‘no-fault’ evictions is a solid reason, such as non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour. Asking victims of anti-social behaviour to wait months before giving evidence against their abuser [in the courts] will lead to victims having to leave instead of the antisocial offender.”
British Property Federation policy director Ian Fletcher raised related concerns. “The abolition of no-fault evictions needs to happen in tandem with essential court reform,” he said, adding that the bill’s proposals “mean that all good reasons for landlords wanting their property back will now have to go to court, and without digitalisation of the courts these proceedings will be lengthy and expensive.”
To what extent these concerns and predictions will influence the eventual form of the bill remains to be seen. But at last we are moving into the phase where ideas will be challenged and proposed changes settled. Above all, the sector needs a bit of certainty.