The housing crisis: reasons to be cheerful for tenants


The government is set to enact a significant overhaul of rental legislation, reshaping the housing market for years to come.

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Image by Tim Hammond

By Max Abdulgani

The government has embarked upon arguably the biggest restructuring of the housing market in decades, placing the increased rights of tenants at the forefront of a plan to shape a broken housing system through new legislation.

The plan includes the abolition of Section 21, a highly controversial order that currently permits landlords to evict tenants at any given time, provided they give at least 2 months notice. They are commonly known as ‘no-fault’ evictions, giving landlords the ultimate say over their property and its enforcement. Rights of repossession will be reformed in the bill to limit the way in which landlords can use existing laws in the market to extend their powers and impose inadequate conditions on the lives of property-dwellers. According to Generation Rent’s Acting Director Dan Wilson Craw; there are currently 24,000 households facing no-fault evictions. This has subsequently become the highest figure on record ever since the government pledged to scrap them entirely. The bill comes as a pledge by Michael Gove, the Housing Secretary, to deliver ‘quality, affordability and fairness’ for tenants.

Some concerns remain over the change in legislation, including the capability landlords will have to punish tenants over anti-social behaviour within communities. The reforms would also target student lettings, including the full overhaul of fixed-term tenancy agreements in favour of rolling contracts, potentially threatening the business models of student landlords who rely upon a system of term-based tenancy requirements. The NUS, however, support the bill on the basis that it would provide greater freedom to student tenants. Chloe Field, NUS VP for Higher Education, said: ‘The abolition of Section 21 ought to give students assurances that they can stay in a property long-term and make it easier for them to demand improvements to poor quality homes.’

The conditions also expected to change regarding tenancies include rules over pet-keeping and new regulations which require there to be ‘reasonable’ grounds of refusal from a landlord to prohibit pets from being allowed to roam freely around leased properties. Pet insurance policies, however, are recommended to prevent any damage incurred.

Another aspect is a cap on rent increases which is expected to mean less freedom for landlords to increase rent, especially during times of profound economic hardship. The reforms would mean landlords would be able to increase rent once per year with reasonable grounds. Even with this adjustment, however, tenants would still have the powers to call for a first-tier tribunal on any instance of a rent increase. Tenants would also be fully entitled to be compensated for homes which have failed to fall under the category of ‘Decent Standard’. These adjustments have received widespread praise from housing associations, charitable organisations and members of Parliament across the political spectrum who have been actively advocating for more regulatory oversight in this field.

The bill would also constitute the requirement of a new regulator in the form of a property ombudsman which would act to penalise landlords for failing to sufficiently deal with the complaints of tenants, the quality of their property as well as repairs. Fines could rise to around £30,000 and criminal prosecution could even be on the table for repeat offenders.

Additionally, the bill is expected to boost the quality of homes by lawful requirement to Decent Home Standard, not dissimilar to the system currently in place across Scotland. This would incorporate a National Landlords’ Register to keep a record of tenancies across the UK. This would likely result in a clearer and transparent system for the government to enforce laws when applicable.

The process of the Renters’ Reform Bill has been ongoing as part of a lengthy legislative process first suggested by Theresa May’s government back in 2019. The bill was only put forward in Parliament as recently as May 2023, however, with an expectation of completion over the course of the next few months provided it is deliberated fully within the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively.

There have been significant doubts over whether the bill will succeed in fixing a broken rental system which has suffered from the consequences of a chronic supply shortage and housing crisis in Britain. Many have questioned if the bill will make any substantial difference in the long term regarding the tendency for landlords to push up rent prices to the detriment of tenants seeking to gain a foothold on the property ladder. Demand surges have arguably resulted in a wholly inadequate system punishing tenants and letting landlords off the hook. The concern for this bill about to go through Parliament is that it will act as a short-term, sticking plaster approach to a series of problems that have existed for decades.

The need for Britain to become a house-building nation, many have argued, is more necessary now than ever before. Decades of supply shortage combined with the failure of successive governments to tackle the housing crisis has resulted in a system of unfair advantage for landlords that stock up on existing properties and charge high rent prices whilst exploiting economic conditions. It has also meant many tenants have been faced with little prospects within a system of sky-rocketing rent increases and unsubstantiated tenancy rights.