What Does The Renter’s Reform Bill Mean for Tenants: Pets, Evictions and a New Ombudsman
After years of waiting the day has finally come. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, this week announced the long-awaited Renters (Reform) Bill in parliament.
This bill is being touted by the government as: “once-in-a-generation reforms [which] will deliver safer, fairer and higher quality homes” to Britain’s 11 million private tenants.
It is set to have a big impact on private tenants; it will end ‘no fault’ evictions, make having a pet easier and create a new Private Rented Sector Ombudsman to look at tenant’s complaints.
First announced ahead of the 2019 general election, the Conservatives have been promising the bill will bring "a better deal for renters" for the last three and a half years.
We’ve laid out the most relevant parts of the bill for tenants and what changes they will bring for private renters when they take effect.
What is in the bill?
Pets allowed by default
Changes to pet ownership under the new Renters (Reform) Bill have been described as a “game changer” by activists.
Under the new bill landlords will no longer be allowed to ‘unreasonably withhold consent’ when a tenant asks to have a pet in their home. Any unfair decisions by the landlord can now be taken to the new Private Rented Sector Ombudsman.
Landlords will be able to require pet insurance to cover any damage to their property.
Research by the Dogs Trust and Cats Protection charities found just 30% of landlords would allow their tenant to have a dog in the property.
Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, said: “The new measures introduced today are a potential game changer for responsible dog owners who rent. Dogs Trust has been campaigning on this subject for many years as we believe that the joy of pet ownership shouldn’t be exclusive to homeowners, but open to private and social renters as well. For too long, people living in rented accommodation have not been able to enjoy the benefits and companionship of a pet just because of the type of housing they live in.
We’re receiving hundreds of calls each week from desperate owners forced to rehome their dogs due to a lack of pet friendly accommodation. The measures announced today as part of the Renters (Reform) Bill will mean that many more dogs can stay living with their loving families. This is great news for both owners and for the animal welfare sector alike.”
An end to Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions
Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions give landlords the power to evict tenants without needing to give a reason. All they need to do is give the tenant written warning and two months to get out.
‘No fault’ evictions, known as Section 21 evictions, have been soaring - up 76% on last year according to the BBC. While figures are skewed by the ban on evictions during the pandemic, in the first quarter of 2022, claims and orders in private landlords’ possession cases had returned to a similar level to 2019.
Government figures released last week show 24,060 households were threatened with homelessness in England as a result of a Section 21 no-fault eviction in 2022 – this is 50% higher than in 2021.
The new bill would abolish no-fault evictions, the government said a tenancy now, "will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession".
New PRS Ombudsman
The new ombudsman will give teeth to the new rules introduced in the bill, helping to enforce the law and rule on disputes.
All private landlords will be required to join the Ombudsman, and it will have legal authority to compel apologies, take remedial action and pay compensation
The Private Rented Sector has badly needed its own Ombudsman for a long time. The office already exists for social renters and often helps sort out disputes between tenants and social landlords.Private landlords can voluntarily join the existing Ombudsman, but only 71 have, according to their latest report.
The Government has promised the new Private Rented Sector Ombudsman will provide “quicker and cheaper resolutions to disputes” between private tenants and their landlords.
No more “No Kids” or “No DSS” policies
As part of the bill the government is bringing forward laws to make it illegal for landlords and agents to have blanket bans on renting to tenants in receipt of benefits or with children.
Lots of listings say things like ‘couples only’, implicitly denying families the chance to rent. Until now the only protection against this was the Equality Act, under which tenants could argue that not renting to people with children indirectly discriminated against women.
Lots of listings used to say “No DSS” on them, which means the landlord refused to rent to anyone claiming universal credit, housing benefit, disability benefits or tax credits.
The courts had already ruled that this was illegal in two landmark cases brought by housing charity Shelter. In one instance a disabled man successfully sued a letting agent who refused to show him any houses and in another a single mother with two kids sued.
This also came under discrimination law because people were adversely affected by their sex and disability when looking for a home to rent.
Now it will be formally written into law as part of the new bill instead of relying on the Equality Act.
Decent Homes Standard for Private Rentals
The Government’s Decent Home’s Standard currently only applies to social housing. It ensures that homes are free from hazards like mould, damp or structural problems.
Nearly a quarter of private rented homes failed to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard with private renters more likely to report problems like damp, according to the English Housing Survey.
According to a 2021 Government report an estimated 589,000 properties fail to meet these standards due to at least one category 1 hazard, and the associated costs to the NHS are estimated to be £340 million a year. This compares with just 5% of social housing.
Currently, local councils are obliged to identify any hazards in private rented properties and take enforcement action against the landlords.
The new bill means landlords will have a legal duty to ensure their property meets the standard, with any breach considered a criminal offence.
Strengthen council enforcement powers on bad landlords
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 gave councils stronger powers to punish bad landlords with Banning Orders - putting them on a list of people banned from renting out property.
It’s fair to say that since that time councils haven’t used these new powers much. A 2021 Freedom of Information request by the Guardian found that in three years only 39 agents and landlords had been put on the list nationwide.
The new bill is making it a legal requirement for councils to report on enforcement activity - providing for the first time much-needed data on which local authorities are prosecuting rogue landlords and which are letting them get away with it.
Landlords get strengthened section 8 powers
While the new bill makes ‘no fault’ evictions illegal it strengthens protections for landlords who want to get rid of ‘problem tenants under section 8.
Section 8 will let landlords evict tenants if they want to sell the property or if they wish to move a close family member in.
It also strengthens grounds for eviction if tenants are in rent arrears and in cases of criminal behaviour or serious antisocial behaviour, the notice period for the existing mandatory eviction ground will decrease.
The bill will also speed up court proceedings at county courts which will presumably let landlords get the bailiffs in more quickly if tenants are refusing to leave.