The government’s white paper, A fairer private rented sector, was published last week. It introduces the government’s ambitions for the Renters Reform Bill, the aims of which are said to be improving the quality and security of housing for tenants, while streamlining landlords’ ability to obtain possession in appropriate cases.
The paper sets out a 12-point action plan, but the key proposals are:
- The introduction of the Decent Homes Standard, a legal obligation upon landlords to ensure that let properties are fit for purpose. A review of the Housing Health and Safety Rating System due to complete in Autumn 2022, and will no doubt inform the standards set.
- Abolition of s.21 ‘no fault’ possession and reform of the s.8 grounds for possession.
- Phasing out of assured shorthold tenancies and assured tenancies (both of which have an initial term) in favour of a single system of periodic tenancies, save for purpose-built student accommodation. All periodic tenants will be able to terminate a tenancy upon two months’ notice. This change aims at affording tenants both flexibility and stability in their homes. Landlords will no longer be able to evict a tenant without good reason.
- Introduction of two new grounds for possession:
- Discretionary possession where a landlord wishes to sell the property, move into it themselves, or for a close family member to move into it. This extends the existing Ground 1 and is likely to be a welcome addition for landlords.
- Mandatory possession where a tenant is in at least two months’ arrears three times in the last three years. This amendment is aimed at tackling tenants who persistently reduce their arrears under the two-month threshold to avoid possession under Ground 8.
- Rent increases to be permitted once per year only, and subject to review by the First Tier Tribunal.
- Introduction of a new ombudsman for private landlords, with which all private landlords must register. This proposal aims to reduce the burden of housing disputes on the courts and allow for disputes to be resolved more efficiently.
- Introduction of a property portal with which landlords must register. The idea is that the portal will be a single point of access for up-to-date, accurate information for landlords, and will also allow local councils to monitor and enforce compliance. The white paper also sets out an intention to increase the enforcement powers of local councils, but the nature of those powers is so far unclear.
- Prohibition on landlords refusing to let to people and families in receipt of benefits, or to unreasonably refuse pets.
The white paper also sets out a commitment to improve the efficiency of possession matters, including increasing the capacity of county court bailiffs, and a focus on prioritising cases appropriately. The detail of the proposal, again, is unclear.
Finally, the white paper sets out two pilot schemes aimed at reducing the burden of landlord and tenant disputes on the County Court, and thereby increasing efficiency for litigants;
- A mediation pilot for landlords and tenants, and
- Trial of a single system for cases which could be heard in both the FTT and the County Court, to avoid matters being split across two jurisdictions and to increase certainty for court users.