A step closer to renters' reform: A call for evidence response

10 February 2023

The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee has published its response to the call for evidence on the Renters' Reform Bill white paper.

A response to the call for evidence on the Renters' Reform Bill A Fairer Private Rented Sector white paper proposals has been published, informed by the opinions of a wide range of industry representatives - including Goodlord.

The Reforming the Private Rented Sector report outlines a list of recommendations to the government by the cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee for amending the existing proposals.

This guide answers the following questions, according to the committee's response:

Could landlords receive more certainty around tenant notice periods?

The original white paper proposed that tenants give two months' notice to leave a property, once all Assured Tenancy or Assured Shorthold Tenancy move onto a single system of periodic tenancies.

The call for evidence response recommends adding the requirement for tenants to wait at least four months before they can give the two months' notice, to give landlords the "legal certainty" of at least six months' rent at the outset of the tenancy.

Will students be included in the switch to periodic tenancies?

For students, the call for evidence committee proposes that:

  • fixed-term tenancies should remain across the whole student housing sector
  • all landlords sign an existing code of conduct
  • the government replace the current codes with one, national code
  • The government introduces financial penalties for any landlords that try to use this exemption to rent to non-students

What else may change under section 8?

The white paper outlines how certain section 8 grounds will be strengthened, yet the call for evidence response suggests making the ground addressing the sale or occupation of the property more stringent.

It proposes:

  • increasing the notice period that the landlord has to give when gaining possession to sell or occupy the property to four months
  • extending the amount of time that must pass in the tenancy before the grounds can be applied, from six months to one year
  • Increasing the notice period from two months to four months
  • not allowing landlords to remarket or relet the property within six months of the grounds being exercised
  • encouraging landlords to sell to the sitting tenants

Ground 14 addressing antisocial behaviour would also become mandatory, with more guidance to define "antisocial behaviour" and the circumstances where possession would be granted.

How could court processes be sped up?

While the white paper highlights the need to introduce "wide-ranging court reforms" to speed up proceedings, the call for evidence response recommends creating a specialist housing court to unblock the process - and to consider better prioritising and fast-tracking claims for rent arrears and antisocial behaviour.

The response also suggests working with landlords on adapting the court process before abolishing section 21, to make sure that landlords have "confidence in the system."

Could Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards be included under the Decent Homes Standard?

The committee members support introducing the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector (PRS).

The response suggests including the Minimum Energy efficiency standards within the framework of the Decent Homes Standard under Criterion D, which requires homes to offer a "reasonable degree of thermal comfort".

It also recommends that the government invests in new financing solutions to support landlords that have to pay out more than £10,000 on improvements works, as well as reviewing the properties currently exempt from the requirements to understand the "merits of legislating to revoke this exemption."

What might landlords need to upload to the property portal?

More detail about what should be uploaded to the property portal - which will create a "single front door" to help landlords understand and meet their compliance obligations -has also been revealed, including:

  • gas and electrical safety certificates and reports
  • other reports generated by tradespeople
  • energy performance data
  • details of ombudsman and deposit protection scheme memberships

The response also highlights the need for the government to digitise the relevant documents now to make it easier to search, verify, and monitor the information.

Financial penalties for false or misleading information would also be introduced under the recommendations, and the existing proposal to include a rogue landlord database in the portal received the committee's backing.

Will rent clauses still be banned?

The white paper says that "any attempts to evict tenants through unjustifiable rent increases are unacceptable". The committee has therefore suggested clarifying what would be a "justified rent increase", with the use of the property portal to declare rent levels.

It also recommends that rent review clauses still be allowed, but that tenancy contracts outline how much rents would increase by. It also suggests including a break period during which tenants can appeal if they think the increase puts their rents above local market rates.

Should a single ombudsman be set up or multiple created?

The committee proposes that the government "replaces the existing letting agent schemes with a single ombudsman covering all letting agents and landlords", to avoid confusion and to streamline the dispute process.

How will the "No DSS" ban be upheld?

The committee calls for the government to explain how it will stop landlords from banning tenants on benefits, as well as upping the benefit rates so that housing benefit covers the cost of renting.

Will tenants be allowed to keep pets in any private rented property?

The response suggests abandoning plans to legislate so that landlords can't "unreasonable withhold consent" for a tenant to have a pet in their rental property - or more clearly define "unreasonably" and when a landlord would have to accept a pet.

How could communications be improved with tenants and landlords?

The tenants' "How to rent" guide should be updated, the committee shares, to include more information about tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities.

It also suggests increasing awareness around the existence of this document, and making it easier for tenants to complain to the new ombudsman and receive compensation if they don't receive it.

What support will local authorities receive?

A consultation to discover what short-term funding local authorities may require and agree training requirements of the necessary staffing of enforcement and environmental officers has been recommended in the response.

A review of the civil penalties regime in collaboration with local authorities has also been suggested, with local authorities having the power to set up a selective licencing scheme in its area, and to decide how best to enforce standards.

The response also asks for clarity on whether landlords can transfer ownership of their property before a court hearing to avoid prosecution for housing offences - and recommends a consultation on how to avoid this scenario if this is indeed possible.

How could the affordability issues in the PRS be addressed?

Recognising the current issues with affordability of rents in the PRS, the committee also recommends a review of the current tax regime for landlords in the buy-to-let sector, with the goal of making investing in the sector more "financially attractive" to small landlords.

The response additionally suggests:

  • making the role of the PRS in the wider housing mix "clearer", to understand the value the government places in smaller portfolios
  • realigning housing benefit with the "30th percentile in each broad rental market area" to ensure it covers the tenants' housing costs
  • implementing the tourism accommodation registration scheme in England "as soon as possible"

This article is intended as a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. For more information, visit gov.uk.

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