Renters (Reform) Bill Moves to Lords Amid Controversy

The Renters (Reform) Bill is finally heading for the House of Lords after a mauling from MPs.

In recent weeks, Levelling-Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove hit a brick wall trying to cajole MPs who make money from renting property into backing his plans to make renting a home privately fairer for tenants.

After changing the deadline for scrapping Section 21 evictions for a third time at the weekend, he handed the job of steering the BIll past MPs to Housing Minister Jacob Young.

He faced a wall of defiant MPs blocking his way.

A trawl of the register of members' interests revealed more than 100 MPs earned £10,000 a year or more from letting property.

Landlord MPs dilute rent reform

Some 83 are Tories, alongside 18 Labour MPs, four Lib Dems and one from the Scottish National, although many more may collect smaller amounts of rent.

Eventually, after four hours of debate, a watered-down version of the Bill cleared the Commons with considerable changes.

Outside, campaigners said the biggest letdown from the unrecognisable promised reforms was the government's giving in to backbench protests over a proposed ban on Section 21 ‘no-fault’ evictions.

Instead of abolishing Section 21, the bill goes to the Lords with no clear timeline for the ban coming into force.

Young explained Section 21 evictions will stay until the courts are ready to handle an influx of cases when the Bill becomes law.

No timeline for the Section 21 ban

A government amendment requiring an assessment of the possession order process and enforcement by the courts in England before the end of Section 21 no-fault evictions was voted through.

The amendment marked an embarrassing change in government policy that pledged to abolish Section 21 before the General Election later this year. Earlier in the week, this became a promise to ban Section 21 before the election when a review of the court system was completed. The promise is to ban Section 21 as soon as possible, which may be after the election.

In truth, the government has no control over when the ban will occur—everything depends on when the court review is delivered and how quickly the House of Lords administers the bill.

Other amendments include:

  • Giving tenants two months' notice to quit a home - but only after they have lived there for four months.
  • Changing rent-to-rent legislation and court judgments to include immediate and superior landlords when improvement notices are served and making both liable for rent repayment orders.
  • A review of selective licensing and the government’s intention to publish an online property portal. 

Young said: “The portal will be a resource for local authorities and to help landlords understand their legal obligations, while selective licensing gives councils powers to licence properties to address issues such as poor housing and crime.

“There will be overlap with data. We don’t want to see selective licensing abolished but want to ensure the processes are streamlined – that’s why we’re committing to a review of selective licensing and HMOs.”

  • A new property ombudsman will share data with the portal to reduce data creep, stopping landlords from entering the same information on different but related systems more than once.
  • The government will publish a report on the impact of fixed-term tenancies on the rental market within 18 months of the Bill becoming law to ensure that the new tenancy rules work.
  • A decent home standard for privately rented homes will follow as secondary legislation.

Ministers ignored us, claim lobbyists

The Renters Reform Coalition slammed the amended Bill as unlikely to improve homes, impact affordability, or give renters security of tenure—the stated aims of the policy.

A spokesman said: “Our concerns have not been taken seriously. It is revealing that ministers have met with lobbyists for landlords and estate agents twice as often as they have met groups representing renters.

“Instead of engaging with us, the government has repeatedly watered down the bill, with several rounds of damaging concessions to backbench MPs that have fundamentally weakened it. The amendments tabled recently by the government are just the final straw.”

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