Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Generation Rent (HPB 148)

1. Generation Rent, the operating name of the National Private Tenants Organisation, campaigns for professionally managed, secure, decent and affordable, privately rented homes in sustainable communities.

Summary

2. Generation Rent broadly welcomes the measures on criminal landlords that the government is legislating for in the Housing and Planning Bill, but proposes a number of further measures:

a. Private renters should have greater security of tenure through protection from no-fault eviction and unreasonable rent rises.

b. Starter Homes should be built in addition to, not instead of homes for social rents. They should only be resalable at a discount to the market price to ensure a perpetual supply of homes to buy at below market prices.

c. The blacklist of convicted landlords and letting agents should be publicly available to provide greater transparency in the lettings market.

Scope of the Bill

3. Despite the government’s aspiration for the industry to provide longer tenancies, there is no provision in the Bill to improve security for private renters.

4. Under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, renters can face being forced to leave their homes with only two months’ notice and without the landlord needing to give a reason. They should be protected from this eventuality, particularly now that the sector is home to 1.5 million households with dependent children (English Housing Survey). Moving home costs hundreds of pounds and can cause a huge amount of stress on families in particular.

5. Where landlords need to repossess their properties if their business is no longer viable, or if they have to make an unsafe home safe again, they should be required to rehouse the family locally, or at least "buy out" their tenants to cover the costs involved in moving. All tenants should be entitled to this. In many cases the cost will be a deterrent from frivolous evictions.

6. Landlords should also be prevented from forcing tenants out by raising the rent by more than the tenant can afford, with a limit of consumer price inflation on rent increases within tenancies.

Starter Homes

7. The government only intends to build 200,000 Starter Homes by 2020. These homes will help only a small fraction of the private renters the government wants to help into home ownership.

8. The number of first-time buyers helped by the Starter Homes scheme could be increased by extending the 20% discount in perpetuity. The current plans are likely to only benefit the initial purchasers, and won’t reduce costs for those most in need.

9. The decision to divert resources away from affordable homes for rent is a mistake. By building more social housing, this would help to reduce the numbers of low income families living in private rented housing, and would in turn reduce the housing benefit bill from £9.3bn spent on private renting. By reducing demand for private rented housing, rents for other tenants would also fall, helping them to save for home ownership if they wish.

Rogue Landlords and Letting Agents

10. The measures to strengthen local authority enforcement teams is very welcome. However, local authorities will still have limited scope to make the most of the register of convicted landlords and letting agents – it would have even more value in the hands of the consumer. The register should be publicly available, with renters given the right to withdraw an offer of, or end, a tenancy without penalty if their landlord is discovered to be blacklisted.

11. The extension of rent repayment orders to tenants of negligent landlords is very welcome. The government should help tenants take action by enabling them to recoup legal costs from the landlord.

12. The government should also abolish outdated rent limits on the law requiring homes to be fit for human habitation, as proposed in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill. This would give tenants another legal avenue if their landlord is failing to provide safe accommodation.

Abandonment

13. This part of the Bill enables landlords to avoid the courts to evict a tenant. There are many situations where a tenant might face eviction as a result of circumstances beyond their control. This part of the Bill should be removed.

December 2015

Prepared 14th December 2015