Renting is changing. That’s what we keep being told by the Government as it prepares the ground for its renters’ reform agenda to become a reality.
Unquestionably, the truth is renting has already changed dramatically, which is exactly why this government and the previous two or three before it have developed complex programmes of consultation and stakeholder engagement to devise a way to deal with the perceived problems of private renting.
The private rented sector (PRS) is unrecognisable from that which prompted the Government of 1988 to pass its Housing Act, so it should hardly be a surprise that there is a clamour for a change. The question of course is what needs to change and how, which is perhaps where the disagreements will lie between those of us representing supply and those speaking for the consumers.
Differentiating between those two camps has, arguably, been made a little easier of late with the creation of the NRLA and the coming together of the Rental Reform Coalition. Furthermore, both sides have now published summaries of their respective positions about rental reform, making comparison more straightforward.
It would be easy to treat this as an adversarial situation, with two tribes at loggerheads about what comes next. However, as Frankie famously said: “When two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score” and the future of the PRS is far too important for point scoring.
Looking at the Coalition’s Blueprint for Reform and our Shadow White Paper, there are obvious points of difference but there are also notable similarities in approach.
For instance, we recognise that Section 21 will come to an end, and that grounds which are not linked to a breach in tenancy (such as to allow the sale of a property) must be used appropriately with robust evidence requirements and adequate notice.
We also agree that care must be taken to avoid rent hikes being used as a de facto replacement for s21, although we believe that the tribunal will be up to the task post renters’ reform.
We are entirely onboard with preventing illegal evictions, as a means of improving the private rented sector as a whole, and increasing tenants’ confidence. However, as these are by definition illegal, we favour a focus on enforcement and ensuring third parties, including the police, properly understand the law.
There are naturally areas where we do not see eye to eye. I find it difficult to agree with some of the logic contained within the blueprint. Some of the proposals concerning greater discretion in rent arrears claims seems to assume landlords have very deep pockets. Likewise, its call for indefinite tenancies offers landlords no security and tenants complete agency to leave a tenancy at any point, which doesn’t suggest a great deal of the balance supposedly being sought.
That being said, and with balance in mind, I’m sure there would be a great deal with which Coalition members would disagree with our white paper too.
My worry today, is that irrespective of what lies ahead for renters’ reform, and there will be much debate about this, it risks overshadowing critical supply and demand issues that should be the immediate priority.
Both groups have highlighted this in their own ways, but it is imperative that solutions are found that do not stifle investment in the way that interventions like rent stabilisation would.
When it comes to the supply of rented accommodation here in the UK, the lack of affordability and supply combined with other pressures on the cost of living, will stand in the way of the Government’s many missions and the prosperity of those living and working in the PRS.
Building more housing across tenures will help but takes time. Against the backdrop of a dramatically increasing household bills, the Government must act to reduce the cost of providing housing through the tax system and incentivise investment to kick start supply. If steps are not taken now, renters’ reform may be too late to achieve the change many want to see.
* Chris Norris is Policy Director for National Residential Landlords Association *
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