Buried deep in the small print (page 51 of the Red Book) of the 2015 Budget presented to Parliament by Chancellor George Osborn was a surprise measure which shows that the government is planning to bring in legislation allowing tenants to do sub-letting for short periods.
But will the Government do a re-think on this, as a clarification statement is issued by Housing Minster, Brandon Lewis? – see below.
The move, seemingly, is in response to demand from homeowners and tenants to be able to sub-let their homes for short periods of time, via websites such as Airbnb. But the suggestion has caused something of a stir by landlords and outraged the property industry.
Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action, a group that assists property owners when they need to evict problem tenants, told Guardian Money:
“This caught everyone unawares. It comes at a time when we have never had so many complaints from landlords about subletting. We’re even working on a documentary with Channel 5 at the moment highlighting loads of subletting scandals.”
The Budget Red Book 2015 states, under a heading Support for the Sharing Economy:
The government wants to ensure that Britain is the global centre for the sharing economy, enabling individuals and businesses to make the most of their assets, resources, time and skills through a range of online platforms. This budget therefore announces a comprehensive package of measures that will break down barriers, create opportunities for sharing, and unlock the potential of this dynamic and growing area.
Building on the recommendations of the independent review of the sharing economy, the government will: Make it easier for individuals to sublet a room through its intention to legislate to prevent the use of clauses in private fixed-term residential tenancy agreements that expressly rule out subletting or otherwise sharing space on a short-term basis, and consider extending this prohibition to statutory periodic tenancies.
Following this surprise development, Guardian Money sought clarification from Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.
In a statement, he said:
“Tenants should be able to ask for permission to sublet their home without expecting a blanket refusal in every case – but landlords should also have the right to know who is living in their property. Our proposals would mean a tenant could ask for this permission under the model tenancy agreement, with landlords having the right of refusal, offering reasons for that decision and within a reasonable time frame.”
The Government have now said they will amend the model agreements for assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) by the summer of 2015, so that tenants in private rented accommodation can request their landlord’s permission to sublet or share space on a short-term basis. Provided the requests are reasonable, the note says, it will be difficult for landlords to turn them down.
The story has resulted in a storm of protest from landlords on various social media forums, including these examples quoted by Guardian Money:
Gary Nock of SCN Properties says: “Oh my god! Where did this lunacy come from? So we as landlords conduct due diligence to ensure we comply with insurance clauses on only renting to ‘professional’ tenants … [We] conduct immigration checks. Many of us are regulated through PRS, DPS, selective licensing. And then our tenants can rent our properties to anyone without any control or sanction whatsoever. Madness.”
Monty Bodkin, wrote: “Consider if you let your two-bed semi out to a respectable couple. They then put an ad on a site like Airbnb, sub-let the two double rooms to transient families and kip in the lounge. The extra damage caused would be horrendous, far higher than the deposit – even if excessive fair wear and tear could be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Not to mention creating a de facto overcrowded house in multiple occupation, annoying the neighbours, parking problems, breaching mortgage conditions, leasehold conditions etc. Doubtless the deregulation bill will be amended to prevent landlords carrying out section 21 ‘revenge’ eviction in such circumstances.”
But it seems at least one tenants’ group is fully in favour of the proposals:
“Generation Rent has welcomed the chancellor’s commitment to give tenants the right to sublet on a short-term basis, and has urged the government to protect renters further by reforming eviction law…”.
Landlords fear that if tenants are allowed to sublet, even with their permission, they are opening themselves up to potentially serious problems. One example of just what can happen in these circumstances is amply illustrated by the case of a group of Irish Students trashing a landlord’s home.
In the meantime the landlord associations and landlord groups are urgently pressing government officials to reverse the initiative. Chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, Alan Ward, has said:
“The measures on subletting are a nightmare in the making and smack of ‘back of the fag packet’ policymaking. Key questions remained unanswered, such as who will be responsible for a property if the tenant subletting leaves the house, but the tenant they are subletting to stays? Similarly, given the government wants landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants, who would be responsible for checking the status where subletting occurs?”
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) March 30, 2015