The next government must treat renters’ rights as a priority

The next government must treat renters’ rights as a priority

In their 2019 election manifesto, the Conservative Party pledged to ban Section 21 evictions, a move that would prevent landlords from evicting tenants without a valid reason. This promise aimed to bolster renters' rights and provide greater housing security amidst a growing housing crisis. However, translating this pledge into law has proven problematic, leaving many renters and housing advocates frustrated.

The Stalled Legislation

The journey to ban Section 21 evictions has been fraught with delays and political hurdles. The Renters Reform Bill, designed to implement this ban, has faced significant opposition from within the government itself. Several Conservative backbenchers, many of whom are landlords, have demanded greater protections for landlords, arguing that the bill as proposed could unfairly disadvantage them.

Despite these challenges, Labour sources indicated a willingness to let the bill pass during the wash-up period—a final opportunity to pass legislation before Parliament is dissolved for an election. However, amendments proposed by independent peers in the House of Lords consumed valuable time, leading to the bill's abandonment.

Frustration and disappointment

The abandonment of the Renters Reform Bill has drawn sharp criticism from various quarters. Nick Emmerson, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, expressed deep frustration, stating, “We have been increasingly frustrated by the delays in banning ‘no-fault’ evictions, and we are disappointed in the decision to drop the Renters Reform Bill entirely during the wash-up.”

Emmerson highlighted the critical need for this reform, especially during a cost-of-living crisis and amidst high interest rates. Many renters are struggling to make ends meet, and the lack of security in their housing situation exacerbates their financial woes. Emmerson called on the next government to prioritise renters' rights and ensure that meaningful reform is not just promised but delivered.

The Legal Perspective

From a legal standpoint, Shilpa Mathuradas, head of housing litigation at Osbornes Law, emphasised the significant systemic issues that have contributed to the delays. She noted that the court system is already overwhelmed, with landlords waiting over six months in some cases for eviction after possession has been ordered. Mathuradas pointed out that comprehensive reform of the court system, including digitization and increased bailiff recruitment, would be necessary to support the effective implementation of the Renters Reform Bill.

Mathuradas also criticised the watering down of the bill by Conservative MPs, many of whom are landlords themselves. This conflict of interest has cast doubt on the government's commitment to meaningful rental reform.

Impact on the Rental Market

Sam Reynolds, CEO of Zero Deposit, lamented the further delays to the Renters Reform Bill as a consequence of the impending general election. Both tenants and landlords have been left in limbo, waiting for the proposed improvements that promised greater tenancy security. Reynolds highlighted the missed opportunity for longer fixed-term tenancies, which would benefit both parties by providing stability and peace of mind.

The continuous delays and the eventual abandonment of the bill have led to wasted time and resources, with significant investment and effort from within the rental sector going to waste. Reynolds expressed concern that any incoming government will have to start from scratch, further prolonging the wait for meaningful reform.

Looking Ahead

The Renters Reform Bill's troubled path underscores the complexities of enacting housing reform in the UK. While the Conservatives initially promised to ban Section 21 evictions, the political and systemic challenges have prevented this promise from being fulfilled. With a general election on the horizon, the future of rental reform remains uncertain.

As political parties prepare their campaigns, renters and landlords alike will be watching closely, hoping for a government that will prioritise housing security and implement the necessary reforms to create a fair and functional rental market. The next government's approach to renters' rights will be a critical issue, with the potential to significantly impact millions of tenants across the country.

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