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Under-cooked Renters (Reform) Bill could be just 'much ado about nothing'

sean hooker renting reform

One of the drawbacks of being labelled an expert is you are in demand for your expertise. It becomes your product and when stocks are running low, like we have all experienced when trying to find an egg in the supermarket at the end of the week for your Saturday morning cooked breakfast, the sight of an empty shelf is disappointing to say the least.

This is how I am feeling with the Renters (Reform) Bill right now. After the hype and the expectation, all has gone quiet on the Parliamentary front.

The MPs have gone back to their constituencies for the summer but the all-important second reading of the Bill did not occur and no date for it is set.

This has prompted speculation that the Bill is being quietly killed as opposition from within the Government's own ranks puts pressure on a Government faced with potentially damaging by-elections and trying to reconnect with their agenda.

Sources

I have been reassured by my sources in the department that this is not the case and the timetable for the legislation is set by Parliament not the Government and there is extreme competition for legislative time.

This unwelcome hiatus is frustrating but unavoidable according to them, but they remain 100% committed to the reforms. From the ground however the whole thing looks much ado about nothing.

I am also concerned that the window of opportunity to build consensus and ensure a smooth passage of the Bill through Parliament is narrowing.

The purpose, we were told for the White Paper, was for the proposals to be scrutinised and consulted on in order to iron out any unforeseen circumstance and close any loopholes.

What we got is a now undercooked Bill with details still to be provided and a lot of delegated powers for ministers to bring in future measures without reverting to Parliament. We have seen this approach with building safety and the disruption that causes.

We are also entering a period of political uncertainty and the next extremely short parliamentary session will be quickly followed by party political conference season in September and we are entering the run up to a General Election and the parties will be looking for political mantras and positions with this on their mind. This does not bode well for having agreement over something as serious and contentious as the rental sector. We are therefore moving from the period of sense to one of sensibility where political point scoring will trump working together.

Speculation is rife and the rumour mill is churning, will the Government make it illegal not to rent to benefit tenants and tenants with children; will they ban a landlord asking for or accepting a higher rent than the one they advertised; will the plans for pets in lets, flounder because the MP who put the idea forward is currently exiled from Parliament defending himself from an alleged sex scandal?

These are some of the media stories I have seen recently and these gossip stories will only increase as we enter the Silly Season of Summer as jornos scrabble around for stories whilst we are all off on our well-earned hols!

Regulate the Rogues!

Saying this, the concern and uncertainty and destabilising effect on the sector has meant I have been hugely in demand to provide help and guidance for especially landlords on what this all means.

It was therefore really good to be part of the IPGG online conference on Tackling Rogue Landlords. The event featured experts from across the sector, including local authority enforcement specialists, academics and politicians.

I was very interested in seeing the perspective of former Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales and how this contrasted with that of landlord supremo, Ben Beadle of NRLA.

Surprisingly there was a huge amount of convergence on the need for change and both cautiously welcomed the forth coming renters' reforms.

In my talk, I took the attendees through a whistle stop tour of what a bad landlord looks like and how their behaviours impact on tenants, the current legislation and I also spoke about what more we can do to improve the situation. Surprisingly for me, as the Renters (Reform) Bill was being addressed in a later session I concentrated on the here and now.   

Those of you who have heard me speak or have read my musings on this topic will know I see the issue of poor landlording as not just restricted to the narrow definition of a rogue landlord as the exploitative, dishonest crook that features often in LandlordZone - these are the criminals in the sector and need to be stamped out - but cast a wider net that includes what I call the unconsciously incompetent landlord, namely they do not know what they don't know or have not kept up-to-date or are not professional in their approach.

I also included a third category, those landlords who are consciously incompetent but either do not know how to remedy this or get the wrong and incorrect advice, as there is no single source of truth to which they can refer.

They are the sort of new or potential landlord, you see eagerly walking around landlord shows and property investment seminars, pen and clipboard in hand, writing down everything and anything anyone tells them, good bad or indifferent and accepting the advice as if it is gospel.

They join unmoderated forums online and have their bad practices reinforced - or worse still sign up to a course run by a property guru and pay thousands for get rich quick seminars which fail to point out the pitfalls, obligations and consequences of not knowing the correct compliance information.

Education, Education, Education.

It is for this reason, we at the PRS support the Property Investors Bureau, a body set up to voluntarily regulate the property education sector and we were proud to attend their inaugural summit and to welcome their now forty plus accredited members seeking to raise standards in this unregulated sector. Each membership includes our redress service.

Negative Impact!

Back to my talk and I graphically spelt out the consequences to tenants who are experiencing the sharp end of renting from bad landlords.

At the extreme end, the incidents of Illegal eviction, poorly maintained and dangerous properties, financial exploitation, intimidation and harassment are rising and whilst when you look at this as a percentage of the ever-burgeoning rental sector the figures are low, as a total number this is a significant number. It cannot therefore be ignored.

Tenants increasingly face the threat of losing their home, deteriorating physical and mental health problems, serious injury and even death!

The tenant campaign groups, media and many politicians have rightly jumped on this and the rhetoric is shifting to an increasingly fractious and vitriolic 'them and us'� narrative and the trolls are out in force to jump on anyone brave enough to stick their head over the parapet and call for reason.

The truth is, that whilst the rental market is not regulated, it is very highly legislated and the compliance requirements are wide and rightly demanding. After all, the sector is in the business of providing a huge number of homes for all sorts of people and families, so the standards expected should be extremely high. 

The message out there for landlords who do not play the game to strict rules, should, as the Clash song aptly says, be 'I fought the law and the law won'�. It was therefore very interesting to hear the enforcement perspective from the range of local authorities represented at the conference and this will remain the key to success for the future of building a safer and higher quality sector.

Enforcement key

I pointed out the areas where enforcement was succeeding up and down the country and shared what I learned from Landlord Licencing and Defence at the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme Summer BBQ, on the areas they see increasing penalty notices being issued.

These range from failure to license in its now many guises, lack of or wrong fire detection and alarms, unprotected escape routes, non-compliant or no fire doors, trip and fall hazards, damp and mould, poor or no heating and many, many more. 

This is all before the new proposals kick in. The reality is the sector already has an arsenal pack with tools to hold the worst of landlords to account but the challenges of cost, resources, understanding and yes, the willingness to tackle these issues remain.

Grindstone

We now have a summer to reflect and recharge our vigour to deliver meaningful change and to return in the autumn ready to ensure a collaborative and joined up approach is taken to make a real difference.

True, some campaigners have moved their cardboard boxes onto the Westminster lawn and the political poker of right, left and wrong ( to plagiarise the name of his book, Sir Robin was plugging), has firmly started - but us experts have to clear get our voice heard whilst we still can!  Read Total Landlord's interactive guide and subscribe to LandlordZONE for all you need to know about the Renters (Reform) Bill.

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