The long awaited Renters Reform Bill finally entered parliament this week. This Bill represents a significant step forward for England's 11 million renters, and is the biggest shake up of the private rental sector in a generation. But what is actually in the Bill, and what will ACORN be fighting to improve as it passes through the legislative process? Keep reading to find out!
Likely the most important part of the Renters Reform Bill is the abolition of Section 21 'No Fault' evictions. Section 21 evictions have long been a leading cause of homelessness in England, and its abolition will give tenants more security in their homes, and as a result more confidence to challenge their landlord over issues such as rent hikes and poor living conditions. Time and time again we see people being issued eviction notices for standing up for their rights against their landlord. One ACORN member, Lizzie, shared her story of this with us. Lizzie reported major issues of mould to her landlord, hoping to get it sorted. The landlord delayed this for months, exacerbating Lizzie’s health conditions and resulting in her being diagnosed with aspergillosis after being exposed to mould for so long. Eventually the landlord refused to carry out the repairs and issued a Section 21 eviction Instead. Abolishing Section 21 is a step in the right direction to putting an end to this kind of power imbalance so nobody else has to go through what Lizzie went through.
The introduction of a Decent Homes Standard for private rentals is also a welcome part of the Bill. This will raise the minimum standards for private rented housing, providing tenants with safer and more comfortable homes.
Another positive aspect of the bill is the implementation of fines for landlords misusing eviction grounds. With the abolition of ‘No Fault’ evictions, this is vitally important. This will hold landlords accountable for their actions and discourages the abuse of eviction processes.
A further massive victory is the shift towards open-ended tenancies instead of fixed-term contracts. Open ended tenancies mean if you move into a house that is unexpectedly in poor condition, if your life circumstances change, or you need to move for your own safety you can move out without being trapped in a contract for 6 months or a year. This flexibility will also mean landlords will be less likely to feel they can get away with renting our poor housing. Open ended tenancies mean that as long as you keep to your tenancy agreement, you can expect to stay for as long as you want. ACORN is a community union, we know how important community is to people's well being and to the well being of society. We have members in their 20s who have moved over 10 times in their lives so far. How can people put down roots and get involved in their communities in these circumstances? That’s why we welcome this change - a safe, secure home is the foundation of a healthy life.
The introduction of a mandatory publicly available landlord register is also a significant step toward providing tenants with essential information about their landlords and their track records, and stricter anti-discrimination laws will make it easier for people on benefits or with families to find homes.
While we welcome the Renters Reform Bill, and many of the changes laid out are huge victories for the organised tenants’ movement, we still need to fight to make it stronger! There are a few of the key areas we and others in the Renters Reform Coalition will be pushing to amend as the Bill goes through parliament:
One incredibly important part is the notice period for tenants facing eviction. Unfortunately if the Bill passed in its current state, this would remain at just 2 months. 2 months is nowhere near long enough for most people to find a new place to live, and such short notice means that people end up forced out of their communities or into sub standard housing. We’ll be fighting to increase the notice period to 4 months.
While the abolition of Section 21 is a massive victory, it is vital that this victory is not undermined by landlords using loopholes to turf their tenants out. We need to close these loopholes and tighten up the restrictions on eviction. For example, in its current state the Bill allows for landlords to evict their tenants if they plan to move back into the house themselves. But they are then only restricting from re-letting the property within 3 months. Such a short time period is not enough to discincentivise landlords who might abuse this system from lying about this and then just waiting a few months to rent the property out again. We’ll be pushing to ensure that this time period is increased to a year, and to make sure there is a high bar of evidence that landlords need to provide for these evictions to be authorised by a court. On top of this, there is nothing in the Bill that stops landlords implementing extreme rent hikes that would essentially act as a ‘No Fault’ eviction. We want to see rent increases capped in line with median wage growth at the very maximum.
Additionally, we’ll be working to extend the protected period on open ended tenancies. This is the amount of time from beginning your tenancy before you can be evicted. Currently, this stands at 6 months in the Bill. We don’t think this is anywhere near long enough and want to see this increased to 2 years. This would provide additional security for renters and will allow them to feel more secure and settled in their home.
While the Renters Reform Bill is a welcome development, we know that ultimately there is much more to be done. ACORN knows that to truly address the housing crisis we need large scale government investment in green, truly affordable council housing, and rent controls to put an end to skyrocketing rents. This bill is not a silver bullet for the housing crisis, but it is a huge step in the right direction on the road to housing justice in England.
We’ll keep fighting for a housing system that puts people before profit. If you’re ready to do the same, join us today.