The Government has proposed two new bills relating to housing, as referenced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. As they are being discussed in parliament in the current session, find out what to expect from the reforms and our view on how they might work in practice.

The Renters Reform Bill

Originally announced in November 2019 in the Conservative Party manifesto, the Renters Reform Bill (“RRB”) is trumpeted as delivering a “new deal” for renters by rebalancing rights and responsibilities and driving up standards.

The key proposals at a glance
  1. Assured and assured shorthold tenancies will become a single form of periodic tenancy from the outset, with fixed term tenancies being abolished. Whilst tenants will be able to give two months’ notice at any time, landlords will need to establish a ground for possession and meet additional requirements; e.g. reasonableness.
  2. The grounds for possession will be expanded to introduce a new mandatory ground where the landlord wants to sell or where a tenant has persistently been in arrears of rent over a period of years whether or not at the time of the proceedings.
  3. The “no fault” ground for possession under s.21 of the Housing Act 1988 will be abolished.
  4. Bespoke grounds for possession will be created for supported housing providers and where private rented sector (“PRS”) properties are used as temporary accommodation for the homeless.
  5. Landlords will be required to provide written tenancy terms at the outset, with unspecified penalties to apply in default.
  6. Contractual rent increases will be abolished and all rent increases will have to take effect in accordance with the mechanism set out in s.13 of the 1988 Act; i.e. agreed by the parties or determined by the First-tier Tribunal.
  7. Homes in the PRS will be required to meet a “Decent Homes” standard.
  8. Tenants will be given a right to request permission to keep a pet, which shall not be unreasonably withheld.
  9. It will be unlawful for landlords and agents to adopt blanket prohibitions on renting to persons in receipt of welfare benefits or families with children.
  10. The rent repayment order regime will be expanded to cover housing conditions claims.
  11. A new PRS ombudsman will be established to foster early, efficient and effective dispute resolution otherwise than by litigation.
Capsticks’ view

Until the wording of the RRB is published, it remains to be seen whether proposals such as the requirement to use s.13 for rent increase, the abolition of fixed term tenancies and “no fault” evictions will extend to all landlords or just those in the PRS, although we suspect it will be across the board.

Whilst it is good to see that the PRS will potentially be subject to a similar regulatory regime to social landlords, we do have some doubt as to how much of this legislation will actually survive the parliamentary process and make it into law.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill

Whilst there has been much media coverage of the RRB, another piece of proposed legislation affecting the sector was also mentioned but has largely gone unreported.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill (“SHRB”) will give the Regulator of Social Housing stronger powers to issue unlimited fines, enter properties with only 48 hours’ notice (down from 28 days), and make emergency repairs where there is a serious risk to tenants, with landlords footing the cost.

The SHRB aims to drive up standards and improve the Regulator’s power to act, addressing the systemic issues identified following the Grenfell Tower fire, not just on the safety and quality of social housing, but about how tenants are treated by their landlords.

The key proposals at a glance
  1. Residents will be able to demand information and rate their landlord.
  2. A new 250-person residents’ panel convening every 4 months will allow tenants to share their experiences with ministers, inform policy thinking, and help drive change in the sector.
  3. The “serious detriment” test will be removed so as to make it easier for the Regulator to take action against poor performing landlords.
  4. The biggest social housing providers will face regular inspections and the Levelling-Up Secretary will continue to name and shame the worst offenders.
  5. Landlords will be required to have a named person responsible for health and safety requirements.
  6. Tenants of housing associations will be able to request information from their landlord, similar to how the Freedom of Information Act works for council housing.
Capsticks’ view

The SHRB has yet to pass through the usual legislative process. While it remains to be seen how much of it actually makes it into law, significant political opposition to any of the proposals seems unlikely. If the proposals come into effect, registered providers can look forward to a more stringent regulatory environment.

The extent of the actual “policing” of this will largely depend on how well-funded the Regulator is. From a practical point of view, and particularly in the world of litigation, tenants might attempt to utilise parts of the SHRB to their advantage; in particular when pursuing issues of disrepair and requests for information, which will only lead to additional (and in most cases irrecoverable) expense.

How Capsticks can help

As always, the housing management team at Capsticks will be keeping an eye on the progress of this legislation and will continue to update you as it passes through parliament. In the meantime, we can advise you on all aspects of housing management, including tenancy management, complex court injunctions, disrepair issues, claims of discrimination and anti-social behaviour. Our values reflect your priorities – we care about what we do and aim to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

If you have any queries around what's discussed in this article, and the impact on your organisation, please speak to Steven Wood to find out more about how Capsticks can help.