After years of delays and upheaval, the Renters' Reform Bill finally appears to be back on the agenda, in an effort from ministers to deliver on the promises outlined in the government’s 2019 manifesto. But given the official white paper is yet to be formalised, the extent of the changes is yet to be seen, as are the dates of delivery.
Whilst there are some positives to take from this week's Queen’s Speech surrounding the Bill, such as better protection for both landlords and tenants, a considerable amount of uncertainty remains. Here’s what the sector needs to see and know next.
Clear timelines on next steps are vital
In order to give the sector the time to adjust, the government must provide letting agents, landlords and tenants with the clarity that they need to move forward with confidence, or face months of disruption and unease for agents and tenants alike. Without any mention of definitive timelines, the lettings industry is at risk of facing major legislative changes at short notice.
Applying the legally binding Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector for the first time ever is unquestionably a good thing. It will give tenants safer, better-quality and better value homes. However, agents and landlords need a stronger idea of what this will look like, the specifics of what it will entail for them, and clear deadlines. Levelling up the quality of housing may well be a timely undertaking for many within the industry.
Clarity on rogue landlords
Ambiguity also remains surrounding the proposed development of a centralised database of rogue landlords. A national register of landlords would be valuable, and it’s vital that it’ll be accessible to not only prospective tenants, but also to fellow landlords, agents, employers and professional bodies, driving up standards across the sector.
Whilst a new ‘landlord portal’ has been teased, it remains unclear whether this will be able to facilitate the functionality of a bespoke database of rogue landlords, or if this new terminology is simply a backtrack by the government.
Will the ombudsman have teeth?
The government has been slightly more clear on the upcoming changes to evictions, as moving forward, landlords will need to give a valid reason to evict a tenant and an ombudsman will be introduced so disputes can be resolved without going to court.
Yet it’s currently unclear how this ombudsman will function, how it’ll be governed and who will oversee the final decisions. With section 21 being a sensitive subject for the industry, anxiety is likely to remain until these questions are answered.
Are lifetime deposits gone for good?
One of the most significant changes for agents to grapple with will be the replacement of individual tenant security deposits with a lifetime deposit instead, which follows the tenant from property to property. This was tabled as an idea previously and, if included in the final white paper, agents will need to ensure that they have systems ready in time to handle this securely and transparently. At the moment, it appears that it may be on the back-burner.
Whilst the government is finally making the right sounds about getting this bill through the house, it’s clear that more certainty is needed for the sector due to the timely and labour intensive changes that will be required. Without any idea of deadlines currently, agents and landlords risk being left with little time to adapt to monumental shifts in what is being described as a pivotal moment for the lettings industry.
The proof will be in the pudding, but all eyes are on the government to provide essential clarity and fast.
*Simon Tillyer is director and founder of Vouch.co.uk