The long-awaited Renters (Reform) Bill was introduced to Parliament today; it has been a significant topic of discussion within the UK housing sector. The Bill introduces key reforms on the obligations of both landlords and tenants in the UK – essentially seeking to enhance tenants' rights whilst ensuring a fair balance between the interests of landlords and tenants.
The backbone of the Bill is to provide tenants with increased security of tenure – it intends to abolish all 'no-fault' evictions (section 21 – which currently allows landlords to evict tenants without providing a specific reason). This means that landlords will only be permitted to evict a tenant with a valid reason and/or in 'reasonable circumstances' (which will be defined in law). This drastic reform seeks to reduce the risk of sudden displacements for tenants, and, in the Government's own words, to 'empower renters to challenge poor landlords without fear of losing their home'.
The new Bill also claims to 'protect' over two million landlords and recognises their possession needs by (i) introducing new grounds on which a landlord can seek possession of a property; and (ii) to empower landlords to evict tenants for antisocial behaviour. Amongst other things, it aims to strengthen landlords' rights by way of the following (non-exhaustive) key reforms:
- introducing a new mandatory ground for repeated serious rent arrears where the tenant has been in at least– 2 months' rent arrears three times within the previous 3 years;
- introducing a new ground for landlords who wish to sell their property, or to allow a landlord (and/or close family members) to move in;
- strengthening powers to evict anti-social tenants by broadening the disruptive and harmful activities that will make it quicker to evict in such circumstances; and
- reducing notice periods required to evict tenants where tenants have breached their obligations and/or caused damage to the rental property.
Likewise, as an attempt to 'protect' tenants, the bill is also "determined to tackle... injustices by offering .... quality, affordability, and fairness at its heart". To achieve this, the Bill seeks to propose the introduction of various measures, including:
- the introduction of minimum property standards, including mandatory electrical safety checks and other essential requirements, to ensure that tenants are provided with safe and habitable homes;
- giving the tenants a right to request a pet in their rented property, which the landlord must carefully consider and not unreasonably refuse consent. (A landlords are able to require pet insurance to protect any damage to their property);
- making it illegal for landlords or their letting agents to have blanket bans on renting to tenants in receipt of benefits or those with children; and
- empowering local authorities to report on enforcement activity with a view to targeting criminal landlords.
The Government also proposes to introduce a new Ombudsman to resolve low-level disputes without the need to go to court. Furthermore, a digital Property Portal will help landlords to understand their responsibilities and allow tenants to access information about their landlords compliance; the stated intention being to support 'good' landlords to demonstrate regulatory compliance and to attract prospective 'good' tenants.
The Renters Reform Bill has been seen as a landmark reform, and, if passed into law, will undoubtedly have a profound impact on the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants, shaping the future of the UK's private rented sector. Nevertheless, the proposed legislation is required to undergo a lengthy process before receiving Royal Assent. This means that (i) it may be at risk of being 'watered down' as it passes through Parliament; and (ii) reform is unlikely to be implemented before next year (2024). We await these developments with interest.
This being so, it is now a good opportunity for landlords and their appointed agents to seek advice to ensure they are best prepared for the proposed reforms.
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