One thing is consistent through every change of government: the rules about renting homes will be messed about, to harm both tenants and landlords
Housing rules are currently within the tender mercies of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose declared task is to make things better for tenants. Studies showing that every intervention has been a failure and usually counter-productive do not appear to have informed a change in direction. Obvious problems have produced reactions, but rarely wise ones.
Two initiatives are current. Both were initiated under James Brokenshire, and since he has been unceremoniously booted out of his seat it is possible that his successor, Robert Jenrick, will change direction but until we hear that he has brought authoritative common sense to bear, we must assume that the political capital invested in the two principal ideas proposed will keep them alive.
- Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies
- A new Housing Court
As background assured shorthold tenancy were introduced during Margaret Thatcher’s time gradually to replace Labour’s Rent Acts. An ‘AST’ is a fixed term tenancy which, if not brought to an end by two months’ notice, will continue indefinitely until the landlord serves a notice (known in the jargon as a “Section 20 Notice’). The new proposal is to abolish Section 20 notices, so a landlord could not get his property back unless he can prove, in court, one of a number of listed grounds for possession. It is unlikely that these grounds will include ‘The rent is too low: I want to improve it and let it to richer tenants’.
Landlord groups have pointed out that these proposals will eliminate the possibility of short-term or interim lets, remove he opportunity for flats to be improved for anything short of a major rebuilding, and will result in numerous properties being removed from the market causing a housing shortage and higher rents overall due to supply and demand. It also means that landlords who remain in the market will have to command higher rents in order to cushion themselves against the court costs of removing a troublesome tenant, and for the loss of capital value. One might add that tenants will stop worrying about their behaviour: they will really have to trash the place or stop paying rent before the landlord can do anything about them, and even then he has to be a landlord with the spare cash to go to court – and without rent coming in, he may not.
If a tenant refuses to move out, having received a Section 20 Notice, the court procedure should be quick: there is no defence, so the order is made, and after six months with no rent paid the bailiff (yet more cost) may throw them out. If grounds have to be proven, then that requires a full court hearing, evidence, adjournments, a suspended order while the court gives the tenant a last chance, a new hearing when he defaults again, more evidence, and then and only then can a bailiff be engaged; and if it has got that far the tenant will not go quietly and may be enraged to trash the flat as he goes.
The result is high rents, impoverished landlords and an ever-declining quality of housing stock. Yet the proposal is championed as being for the protection of tenants. Tell that to the next tenant who moves into the trashed flat his landlord cannot afford to repair, paying through the nose to cushion the landlord’s loss and the future risks, and with no alternative because there are few flats left on the market.
The proposals did not come from the Ministry; they came from Shelter, once an honourable charity but which can now join the ranks of the fake charities, funded from our pockets to pump socialist ideas into government. Their care for the homeless is not doubted, but the ideas they propose to help are the equivalent of helping a drowning man by pushing him deeper into the sea.
Shelter has a strong influence because it can play upon its worthiness of intent, and because it does supply advice for tenants genuinely needing help with the law. Well, I am pleased with the plumber when he does a good job, but I do not then let him and his wet hands play with the electrics too.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king: another grip that a lobbying group like this can have is that no one else is as familiar with the Byzantine laws governing housing, and so by ensuring the continued complexity of the law, the lobbyists stay in control.
This though, and the second proposal, the Housing Court, must be the subject of a separate article.