In the past 20 years the number of people renting private property has doubled from 10 to 20% of the population. There are a number of factors driving the rise but chief among them is the ever increasing rise in house prices coupled with the chronic shortage of social housing. For those on low or median wages the prospect of buying a house is a pipe dream, so they are destined to be renting from private landlords for many years to come.
The relationship between the landlord and the tenant is unequal with most tenants renting under an assured shorthold tenancy agreement which is generally six months. How can any individual or family plan their future knowing that they could be evicted at any time by the landlord serving what is known as a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice giving two months to leave? A landlord does not have to provide any reason to serve a Section 21 notice and all too often they are used to evict tenants who dare to complain about the conditions of the property they are renting - ‘revenge evictions’ as they are commonly referred to. A large proportion of these renters are vulnerable people, those with dependent children, those reaching pension age and people with disabilities. Government homelessness statistics identify that the ending of a private tenancy on a no-fault basis has become the single largest cause of homelessness, currently representing more than half of all homelessness applications.
The new Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 provides a measure of protection for private renters. On 20 March 2019 the new law came into force to make sure that rented houses and flats are ‘fit for human habitation’, which means that they are safe, healthy and free from things that could cause serious harm. If rented houses and flats are not ‘fit for human habitation’, tenants can take their landlords to court. The court can make the landlord carry out repairs or put right health and safety problems. The court can also make the landlord pay compensation to the tenant. But, crucially, with Section 21 still in place, any court action to compel the landlord to make changes risks an eviction.
Positive steps have been taken to address the vulnerability of private renters. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme, whereby deposits are protected until a tenant moves out has been a success and in June letting agency fees will be scrapped. However, this is just a start but does not go far enough. If we are going to effect real change we must look to scrap Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. Last year over 50,000 people signed a petition to the Secretary of State calling for Section 21 to be abolished. It has widespread appeal, and is backed by many leading housing and poverty charities. Abolishing section 21 would help to make renting more secure and improve standards.
Good landlords should not concerned because they will be will still be able to evict tenants who are in arrears or at fault. What this proposal does is to provide a measure of balance in the relationship between landlord and tenant and allows the tenant to live in their home, free from the anxiety of a section 21 notice landing on their doorstep, providing they keep to their side of the bargain.