The UK’s rental market is set for a significant overhaul with the passage of the Renters Reform Bill through the House of Commons. The bill, which has been subject to extensive amendments and debates will bring in a new era of rental regulations.

The debate was led by Housing Minister, Jacob Young, who navigated through the government’s stance and the concerns raised by a faction of ‘rebel’ Conservative MPs. The rebels, represented by MP Anthony Mangnall, influenced several concessions that were ultimately included in the bill.

Section 21 scrapped

After four hours of debate, the House of Commons approved the bill, which still retains a ban on Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, though this will not be implemented until the court system is assessed for its readiness to handle a new eviction process. This ban will come into effect following a review by the Lord Chancellor of the county courts in England. The new legislation will be phased in firstly for new tenancies followed later by existing tenancies.

Minimum tenancy term

One of the key amendments requires tenants to provide two months’ notice before vacating a property, but only after residing there for four months. This effectively establishes a minimum six-month tenancy period, aligning with the current norms for Assured Shorthold Tenancies. Exemptions such as death of a tenant or for victims of domestic violence are being considered.

Student Lettings

Lettings to students will be given a special ground for repossession aligning with the academic year. The landlord must serve notice at the start of the tenancy and it will apply to all student accommodation not just HMOs.

Property Portal, Licensing & Ombudsman

The Housing Minister clarified the distinct and separate role of selective licensing and the new property portal and promised a review.

This portal will see all landlords and letting agents required to register themselves and the properties they own or manage on a national database and keep it updated or risk a substantial fine.

Young stated “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.”

Young also committed to aligning the new ombudsman for the private rented sector with the property portal so that landlords would only need to input their details once.

Pets

Tenants will be allowed to request pets and the landlord will be given six weeks to make a decision. Landlords can request tenants take out insurance for pet damage. The government will provide guidance before the Bill is enacted.

Passage through House of Lords

The bill now moves to the House of Lords for further scrutiny. It is expected to undergo additional modifications as Lords examine the proposed changes more closely. Once approved by the Lords, the bill will return to the Commons for final amendments, a process known as ‘horse trading’, which could see further changes before the bill becomes law.

Labour’s Matthew Pennycook, Shadow Minister Housing Minister, argued that the Bill wasn’t yet fit for purpose, saying “The Government can’t articulate what ‘ready’ means regarding the courts – it could be years before section 21 is abolished. The Bill should have been advanced, but the government has made concessions to placate a minority of MPs.”

His colleague Clive Betts, who heads up the housing select committee, said a clear time commitment was needed over abolishing section 21.  Betts said “I have no conviction that after years of contemplation the courts will be any quicker in two years’ time than they are now.”

“Local authorities are very short of staff – once section 21 goes, tenants fearing eviction regarding a complaint will feel embolden to make a complaint, and local authorities will get more requests for help.”

Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action says:  “Without adequate preparation, there is a risk of overburdening an already strained legal system, leading to further delays and inefficiencies that could adversely affect both landlords and tenants.”

“In 2019 when the bill was announced my very words were ‘You cannot ban section 21 until we have claritythe courts can work, so landlords have confidence’. But what’s equally crucial is clarity and commitment from policymakers regarding the timeline for implementing these court reforms.”