Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from Matthew Leese

I am writing to you in relation to your position as Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee and the Committee’s recent enquiry in to the private rented housing sector.

I feel that the Shorthold Tenancy Agreement which tenants are obliged to sign gives a disproportionate advantage to the landlord. It also serves to work against the “flexibility” that renting is supposed to offer. Usually a tenant signs up to an initial six month rental period, but if they need to leave the property within that period, say due to redundancy, work relocation or changed personal circumstances, they have to continue to pay the rent for the remainder of the six month term. Following the initial six month period the tenant has a choice of either a “rolling” monthly agreement which has no fixed term, or signing up to a six month and or year-long contract. Under a “rolling” agreement the landlord can put the rent up at short notice or demand that the tenant leave with two months. This forces many tenants to sign up to longer agreements to fix the rent and prevent the landlord asking them to leave. This then leads to the tenant having to pay up to a year’s rent if they have to move out suddenly causing great financial hardship and denying them the very flexibility of renting which is supposedly one of its advantages.

I became aware of this issue recently after I bought my own house after being a tenant for several years. I had signed a year-long contract and moved out with four months still to go. I was dismayed to realise that I had to pay four months’ rent for a property I was no longer living in (despite having lived there for years). I had signed a year-long contract to prevent the landlord putting the rent up.

I would like to suggest that landlords have to give six months’ notice for rent increases thus negating the requirement for tenants to sign lengthy contracts, and for landlords to have to give six months’ notice if they wish their tenant to leave (excluding extreme cases such as damage to the property). I also believe the tenant should be allowed to break a shorthold tenancy agreement (ie to leave before the six month or year-long period is up) at any time without having to pay any more rent and only having to forgoe the security deposit, which itself should be limited to one month’s rent.

I wrote to my MP, Nick Clegg, about this some time ago and he forwarded the issue on to the then housing minister, Grant Shapps. Mr Shapps wrote back saying they had no intention of changing the law because the private rented sector was in decline in the 1980s when the current Shorthold Tenancy Agreement was implemented. Times have, of course, changed significantly since then with the decline in social housing and the growth of buy-to-let. Buying a house and renting it out has become a one-way bet for wealthier people to make money at the expense of those who cannot afford to raise a deposit to buy their own property. Being a landlord seems too easy and the odds are stacked against the tenant. I hope you will consider my suggestions to make the situation fairer for the tenant.

March 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013