Labour’s new housing spokesperson, Matthew Pennycook, says his party would go further than the government on the subject of private rental sector reform.
Speaking in a Commons debate at the end of last week Pennycook urged the government to implement all 12 reforms set out in its recent Fairer Private rented Sector White Paper - all of which Labour backed - but he added: “Labour would go further in several important respects, introducing a more comprehensive new renters’ charter.”
He also said: “We recognise that landlords will need recourse to robust and effective grounds for possession in circumstances where there are good reasons for taking a property back, for example, because of antisocial or criminal behaviour. However, we want assurances that such grounds cannot be abused unfairly to evict tenants and that they will be tight enough to minimise fraudulent use of the kind we have seen in Scotland.
“We welcome the proposed limit of rent increases to once per year, but we take issue with the inadequacy of the proposed measures in their ability to address unreasonable within-tenancy rent hikes of the kind that are likely to increase markedly once Section 21 is scrapped and with the absence of any measures to tackle illegal evictions.”
Pennycook went on to urge emergency legislation to introduce at least the provisions of the White Paper this winter instead of waiting for the current Renters Reform Bill to trundle through Parliament before becoming law, possibly taking as long as until 2024.
He continued: “Faced with a phenomenally difficult winter, private renters cannot wait until 2024 for the Government to act. I say to the … [government] … that every extra month the government delay bringing forward the renters’ reform Bill they have promised means thousands more private renters suffering. The government must act, and they must act now. If they introduced emergency legislation enacting the proposals set out in the White Paper, Labour would support it.”
“… It is high time the government stopped talking a good game about private rented sector reform and finally got on with delivering it, because private renters have waited long enough for the protections that they deserve and that they rightly expect.”
The debate at the end of last week was concluded by Felicity Buchan - a newly appointed under-secretary of state at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities - who merely said there would be progress on bringing the reforms into law “in due course” - and gave no indication of what that meant.
The Fairer Private Rented Sector White Paper - issued in June - marks what the government calls “a generational shift that will redress the balance between landlords and 4.4m private rented tenants.”
It will ban Section 21 evictions and extend the Decent Homes Standard to the private sector. It will also end what it calls “arbitrary rent review clauses, give tenants stronger powers to challenge poor practice, unjustified rent increases and enable them to be repaid rent for non-decent homes.”
It will be illegal for landlords or agents to have blanket bans on renting to families with children or those in receipt of benefits. And it will make it easier for tenants to have pets, a right which the landlord must consider and cannot unreasonably refuse.
All tenants are to be moved onto a single system of periodic tenancies, which in the government’s words mean “they can leave poor quality housing without remaining liable for the rent or move more easily when their circumstances change.” A tenancy will only end if a tenant ends or a landlord has a valid reason, defined in law.
There will be a doubling of notice periods for rent increases and tenants will have stronger powers to challenge them if they are unjustified.
The government says it is also “giving councils stronger powers to tackle the worst offenders, backed by enforcement pilots, and increasing fines for serious offences.”
There will also be a new Private Renters’ Ombudsman to enable disputes between private renters and landlords to be settled quickly, at low cost, and without going to court.
What the government calls “responsible landlords” will be able to gain possession of their properties efficiently from anti-social tenants “and can sell their properties when they need to.”
There will be a new property portal that will “provide a single front door to help landlords to understand, and comply with, their responsibilities as well as giving councils and tenants the information they need to tackle rogue operators.”