GK Point of View – Will Blackman on reforms to the private rented sector

GK Associate Director, Will Blackman, takes a look at the reforms to the private rented sector contained in the Department for Levelling Up’s recent White Paper.  

This week the Government finally published its long-awaited White Paper on reforms to the private rented sector with its two central proposals consisting of, first, new measures to reform landlords’ grounds for repossession and, second, initiatives intended to tackle poor quality rental properties. The White Paper has been a very long time in development and comes almost three years after the Government originally consulted on its proposed reforms.

The Government’s proposed reforms would undoubtedly see the biggest shift in the balance of rights between landlord and tenant for over three decades. However the challenge for ministers and officials has been to find the optimum balance between greater security of tenure for tenants whilst, at the same time, ensuring landlords remain able to legally take back possession of their property where they have reasonable grounds to do so.

The headline proposal in the White Paper is the abolition of Section 21, or so-called ‘no fault evictions’, where landlords can evict their tenants at two months’ notice without needing to give a reason. At present landlords ordinarily seek possession of their property in one of two ways – by serving a Section 21 notice, or by serving a Section 8 notice, which enables them to evict their tenant providing certain grounds have been met, such as rent arrears or wanting to sell the property. To compensate for the abolition of Section 21, ministers are proposing to expand the grounds set out under Section 8 so that they cover a wider range of scenarios, such as anti-social behaviour. On the surface this sounds reasonable; however many landlords argue that they only use Section 21 because the court process needed to give effect to a Section 8 notice takes too long and is too convoluted. Whilst ministers are proposing reforms to the relevant court processes, in response to such concerns, only time will tell if it will be sufficient to maintain a healthy balance in the rights between landlords and their tenants.

Other measures in the White Paper have similarly been in the pipeline for some time, particularly to address the minority of so-called ‘rogue landlords’ and to enhance tenants’ rights to challenge poor landlord practice. This includes the creation of a new ombudsman to settle disputes between landlords and tenants, and the creation of a new national landlord register. The previously announced extension of the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector is also intended to create a minimum acceptable standard of accommodation and to remove the sometimes significant divergence in housing quality between the social and private rented sectors. The headline-grabbing announcement of a new legal right for tenants to have a pet in their home is something that many have been calling for; however it is the proposed outlawing of landlords refusing to let their properties to benefits recipients that could worry many across the sector.

Indeed, whilst the reforms overall are finely balanced, the big unknown is whether this package of changes will have an adverse effect on investment in the private rented sector going forwards..There is little doubt that these reforms will deliver on the Government’s intention to enhance the experience of those renting in the private sector. However there is a danger that some landlords, particularly with smaller portfolios, decide that letting a property is now simply too much hassle – particularly when considered alongside other tax and regulatory measures introduced in the last decade which have made letting property less financially attractive and which could see some opting to leave the sector. The knock-on effect this could have on the supply and affordability of private renting might well be significant.

The glaring omission from the White Paper is any clarity on the previously proposed new minimum energy efficiency requirements for private rented properties. In 2020 ministers proposed introducing a minimum EPC C standard for new tenancies from 2025, and all tenancies from 2028 – but the Government has said little about the matter since then. It is this requirement that is really concerning many in the sector, as they face the prospect of large bills for upgrading their properties to the new minimum standard, which could be a particular challenge for those with older houses. Ministers will need to provide clarity on this matter soon if they are to avoid significant unintended consequences for housing supply in the coming years.

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