Legislation is nuanced. What the face of a Bill says may be important, but the devil is always in the detail. This means that while there are many issues that the public would like to see addressed, the real importance rests in the ability to pass a piece of legislation that works and can be enforced as well as financed.
Particular examples of where legislation has failed over the past few years are acute. For instance, the lockdown measures (which I opposed) saw huge restrictive measures placed upon the public, with the police left to enforce them. The result was a heavy-handed approach to a peaceful vigil remembering Sarah Everard. Legislators need to be able to balance the desire for change with the reality and understanding of how the law works, while also considering the consequences of new pieces of law.
This week Parliament debated and voted upon the Renters (Reform) Bill. This long-promised Bill seeks to create a fairer relationship between landlord and tenant. Most notably, the Bill seeks to remove no-fault evictions by repealing Section 21. It hopes to ensure that greater certainty can be provided for tenants while also creating a Private Rented Sector Ombudsman. Such an approach is welcome but as ever, the detail is essential.
Landlords should not be demonised. There are just as many bad landlords as there are bad tenants, but in changing the law, we must not pit one side against the other. The ending of “no-fault evictions”, while welcome, must be accompanied by a realistic mechanism for landlords to rely upon.
The reason for this is that there is huge social value in having properties available for the long-term rental market. Yet the rise of Airbnb has only encouraged the short-term letting market at the expense of properties that could be available to those who live and work across South Devon on a long-term basis. This conundrum is highlighted through the CLA’s data that states that the rural private housing sector is set to shrink by 44%, with landlords planning on selling or changing their properties’ class use over the next two years.
So, while the intent of the Bill is noble, the consequences could result in fewer properties being available for long-term rent, more Airbnb and other short-term lets, and reduced property rights. So what is required and what do I hope to see from this Bill as it progresses through Parliament?
First, there should be an ability for fixed-term tenancies between tenants and landlords. Such proposals would ensure that an agreement can be reached between both parties along with a firm understanding of the security of tenure and what rent will be paid.
Second, landlords must have protection rights over their properties. This means that breach of contract, late payment, damage over the amount of deposit and acquiring tenancy through false identification should be able to lead to eviction.
Third, the proposed court system in place of Section 21 needs far more clarity. A dedicated housing court or tribunal would be welcomed but a clear roadmap needs to be presented to reassure both landlord and tenant that an efficient and effective system can be created to resolve disputes.
Fourth, to improve standards there needs to be qualifications and regulation of property agents. Just by introducing a minimum standard to working in the sector, we can ensure that letting agents are at the same level as property managers and thereby help to drive up standards within the sector.
The removal of mortgage rate relief has resulted in many switching their properties from long-term to short-term lets. We need to ensure that we can provide reassurance to both tenant and landlord, while also encouraging people to enter their properties in the long-term rental market. This Bill is the framework to make the necessary changes, but the Government must listen to those of us who are hoping to shape it on its journey through Parliament.