All of the headlines were grabbed by the banning of Section 21 no-notice evictions, but other changes in the Renters Reform Bill (announced in the Queen’s Speech) are likely to have far wider and longer lasting effects on the private rented sector.
In a surprisingly ‘heavy handed’ introduction of new regulations, private landlords are being tasked with a string of extra responsibilities.
The legislative reforms certainly run counter to the de-regulatory rhetoric of minsters in post-Brexit Britain
Many housing commentators have even remarked that it would not have been surprising to see a Labour Government under Kier Starmer introduce the changes.
Landlords have been promised they will get new powers to secure possession of their properties when faced with tenants who regularly fall into rent arrears, or are causing problems through their anti-social behaviour.
Perhaps the biggest headache will be the extension of the Decent Homes Standard
Extra responsibilities for landlords
But take a moment to look at some of the other legislative changes and ask yourself if this administration is a friend to private landlords.
Landlords have long demanded reform of the legal procedures for recovering possession, complaining that the process can easily take a year or more to get the keys returned to them.
The Government has given a vague assurance that they will look at this, but in the meantime it has decided to establish an Ombudsman Service to arbitrate in disputes between landlords and tenants.
Any idea that this will favour landlords might be dispelled by some additional phrasing which says so that disputes “can easily be resolved without the need to go to court, which is often costly and lengthy, and ensure that when residents make a complaint, landlords take action to put things right”.
A new property portal will also be introduced, where landlords can access information about their obligations but this also give tenants rights to performance information that will help them hold their landlord to account.
New property letting standards
No reference was made to the creation of a national register for private landlords. Speculation was rife that ministers were considering establishing such a register to replace the many licensing schemes that have been introduced piecemeal by local authorities in different parts of the country.
But perhaps the biggest headache for many landlords will be the extension of the Decent Homes Standard to their rental properties.
This will bring with it a new set of legal requirements over the quality and age of facilities and equipment provided.
It will also require modern standards for heating and the energy efficiency of flats and houses to be delivered.
What is unknown at this stage is what timescale will be set for the private rented sector to implement the changes and whether they are to be given any financial assistance.
Once the precedent has been set in terms of standards for letting their properties, landlords will know this will be a set of requirements that the Government can add to over time, regularly raising the bar on quality.
It will never be lowered or relaxed!
Are rent controls next?
Given all of the new responsibilities it is perhaps surprising that the Government did not also decide to introduce a set of rent controls, to limit the amount landlords can charge for their rentals.
Within the context of a ‘levelling up’ agenda, it could be asked why shouldn’t private landlords have their rent levels decided by the state as is the case with the social housing sector?
Maybe that would be a step too far for the Government’s backbenchers, although it could be an option for a future budget.
But the context for the Queen’s Speech was one of the biggest cost of living crises in living memory.
Energy prices are a huge contributor to the problem and in just a few months time we face the prospect of a new energy cap being set, potentially adding more inflationary gloom.
Some forecasters are saying that the energy price increases in the Autumn will be even higher than the one recently implemented.
All of this adds up to a pretty substantial additional workload for private landlords. The abolition of Section 21 evictions barely seems important in the light of this.