Think tank demands PRS shake-up

There are now 4.5 million households renting in England, one in five of the population.

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The latest Housing Commission report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has said to highlight the problems caused by short-term private tenancies for renting families and the difficulties private landlords face engaging with the housing justice system.

The report comes as the government is expected to announce reforms to private renting in England following a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation on longer tenancies in the private rented sector (PRS), which ran until August 2018.

The report further highlights that the decline in homeownership of new social housing has seen the private rented sector expand, with 4.5 million households currently rented in England, representing one in five of the population.

The CSJ report also shows that in the decade of 2017, the number of renting households with children increased by just under one million; the number of renters on below average incomes increased by 1.5 million; and the number of older renters (aged 65+) increased by almost 150,000.

CSJ states that the sector remains governed by rules introduced in the late 1980s, when fewer than one in 10 households rented privately.

The report further argues that this has left thousands of families who could previously rely on the security of a home they own or a social tenancy having to uproot their lives and look for a new home at just two months’ notice once the fixed term of their tenancy has ended.

The “majority” of private renters do so on a fixed term of just six to 12 months.

As the Communities Secretary James Brokenshire noted at the launch of the consultation in July 2018: “It is deeply unfair when renters are forced to uproot their lives or find new schools for their children at short notice due to the terms of their rental contract.

“Being able to call your rental property your home is vital to putting down roots and building stronger communities.”

To bring the sector “up to date”, the CSJ is calling for a new Standard Tenancy with a four-year term to be introduced, mirroring the average tenancy length as recorded in the English Housing Survey of 4.1 years, with exemptions for specific markets such as student housing and holiday lets.

The CSJ is also calling for the abolition of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, meaning families will “no longer suffer” from being evicted at two months’ notice without legitimate grounds being proved.

To replace Section 21, however, the CSJ proposes new rules equipping landlords with a range of legitimate grounds to gain possession of their properties during the fixed term, such as if they want to sell up or move in.

In the report, the CSJ also calls for better security for landlords who have been ‘let down’ by the housing justice system, supporting the creation of a specialist Housing Court to deal with housing cases more quickly and effectively.

Under the new system, tenants would be allowed greater flexibility in making cosmetic improvements to their private rented homes, such as hanging pictures and altering the wall colours within “reasonable” agreed parameters.

CSJ Housing Commission Chairman Lord Best commented: “The CSJ is right to stress that while the types of households living in the private rented sector have changed profoundly over the last two decades, the rules governing the sector have not kept apace.

“As the Commission found, the prevailing culture of insecurity has harmed both private tenants and landlords alike. The recommendations we advance in this report update the sector so that families are able to put down roots and landlords can feel confident that the system will work for them.”

Andy Cook, CEO of the CSJ, said: “I’ve lost track of how many cases we come across at the CSJ of people struggling to address the serious challenges they face – be that an alcohol or drug addiction, a family in crisis, or a child struggling to thrive at school – because insecurity in the private rented sector prevents them from doing so.

“The government should be commended for taking the issue of short-term tenancies seriously. We at the CSJ want to help it get these reforms right so that families can put down roots, tackle the root causes poverty, and build stronger communities.”

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