Alex Hilton is Director at Generation Rent.
A government-supported Private Member’s Bill, the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, will have its second reading in Parliament today. The Bill will protect tenants from eviction for six months if their local authority upholds a complaint about serious disrepair or major hazards in their home. Currently a landlord is able to evict their tenant without giving a reason, under the section 21 procedure, which makes it possible for them to evade responsibility to maintain conditions in their properties by simply getting rid of tenants who ask for repairs.
This reform is important because it will give renters the confidence to complain about poor conditions to their landlord or local authority without the fear of facing eviction as a result. It is a small but sensible change that will make a tangible difference to how repairs are treated in the private rented sector, which is now home to more than nine million people.
Yet as the Bill has been prepared, there have been increasingly anxious noises from landlord bodies suggesting that such a measure will encourage tenants to make vexatious complaints to remain in a property while they fail to adhere to the terms of a tenancy. The case of a tenant falling into rent arrears but using this law to prevent eviction is one example that has been cited.
Such alarmist conclusions should be resisted for a number of reasons. First, the argument ignores the fact that there are already grounds for eviction – under section 8 – for tenants who break their contract, run up arrears or engage in dangerous or criminal behaviour. This new measure does not provide these tenants with a means to outwit their landlords.
Second, from a landlord’s perspective, this line of thinking assumes that landlords do not want to be made aware of poor conditions. Those with good intentions – the vast majority of landlords – will want to know that their tenants are living in decent conditions and to be notified about any problems promptly, before they escalate and get worse.
This measure should be something that is welcomed by all law-abiding and decent landlords. It is only those who flout their legal obligations, renting out homes in dangerous conditions, that will be affected.
What is most irrational about the fear of vexatious complaints though is the fact that they won’t actually be a viable means of preventing a landlord from gaining possession of their property. In order for a complaint to be valid – and to therefore restrict section 21 – it would need to be accompanied by an assessment from the local authority’s environmental health team that a serious hazard is present. So if an environmental health officer deems the problem to be minor, or caused by the tenant themselves, no action will be taken that affects section 21 rights.
The Tenancies (Reform) Bill is a move towards professionalising the private rented sector and helping to drive up standards across all properties. It should improve relationships between tenants and landlords too as maintaining conditions becomes a cooperative act, not one of one side blaming the other. MPs across Parliament should view it in this way, and not be swayed by the idea that it gives free reign to antisocial tenants.
As the private rented sector continues to grow in the coming years, and increasing numbers live in it for longer, renters need to know that it is a fair and sustainable tenure. The Tenancies (Reform) Bill is a small step towards achieving that goal.