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What the new Renters’ Reform Bill means for you

No fault evictions are out and pets are in: the Renters’ Reform Bill is set to offer new protections for renters in England, but are they really going to make a difference?

Under new legislation, landlords will now be banned from evicting tenants without justification, ending the ‘no-fault’ evictions which have become a leading cause of homelessness in England.

The Renters’ Reform Bill will abolish Section 21, a clause which has allowed no-fault evictions for 35 years and meant that landlords could give tenants as little as eight week’s notice to leave a property when a fixed-term contract came to an end. In light of this reform, the government has said that “tenancies will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession”.

It will also make it illegal for landlords to refuse tenancies to people who receive benefits or have families.  And there’s good news for animal lovers: the new law will make it easier for renters to own pets in their homes: to be specific, it guarantees that tenants will have the legal right to request a pet and landlords cannot “unreasonably” refuse this. 

Since the government promised to make this change four years ago, 53,000 households have been threatened with homelessness after being served a no-fault eviction Section 21 eviction. In 2022, this number soared by 76 per cent – this surge came after the temporary eviction ban, brought in to protect tenants during the early stages of the pandemic, was lifted. So this new reform is a significant step forward for renters.

That said, there are a few catches. Because this would be classed as a ‘valid ground for possession’, the new law won’t help you if your landlord decides to sell their property. It also grants landlords more power to evict tenants for ‘antisocial behaviour’,  defined as “any behaviour capable of causing annoyance or nuisance”, which is liable to be exploited. Charities have also warned that this could harm victims of domestic violence, who are four times more likely to be accused by neighbours of antisocial behaviour, based on a misunderstanding of the abuse that’s happening in their homes. 

According to the London Renter’s Union (LRU), this does not go far enough to provide renters with real security. Under the new legislation, landlords could still find ways to evict their tenants, whether through large rent hikes or other “backdoor” evictions like selling the property or moving in a family member. Tenants might be able to challenge rent hikes, but only if they go above the market rate in their area – and the cost of rent is skyrocketing just about everywhere, above the level of inflation. Four of five Londoners are currently struggling to afford housing, so if rent rises again it’s likely that even more people will be pushed out of their homes. “For the many families struggling with housing costs at the moment, a 20 per cent rent hike is simply a 'no-fault' eviction under a different name,” said Siobhan Donnachie, Spokesperson for the LRU.

As the government sees it, the reform will “empower renters to challenge poor landlords”. This March, Stonewall published a survey which found that private renters who complained about their landlord, letting agent or local council about poor conditions were over twice as likely to be served with an eviction notice in retaliation. In theory, the new law should make it harder for landlords to do this, but the threat of unaffordable rent hikes could serve the same purpose.

There is still work to be done to make the lives of renters truly secure. LRU is calling for a broader set of protections, including limitations on in-tenancy rent rises and stronger deterrents for ‘backdoor’ evictions. Donnachie said: “If the government is serious about bringing renters security in our homes, it must recognise how insecure renters feel speaking out against unsafe housing or planning for the future with the threat of inflation-busting rent increases hanging over our heads.”

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