Private Renters

Thank you for contacting me about support for private renters.

I appreciate the difficulties many renters face in dealing with landlords and letting agents, and would like to assure you that action is being taken to help the 4.6 million households in the private rented sector by protecting them from rogue landlords, banning unfair fees, and ensuring they have access to longer-term tenancies.

While rogue landlords account for a minority of private rented sector proprietors, I welcome Government action to put dodgy rogue landlords on notice. In 2018, a national database of rogue landlords was brought in, with landlords convicted of a range of criminal offences to be included so that councils can keep a closer eye on those with a poor track record. Furthermore, landlords convicted of offences under the government’s new law may also be given banning orders preventing them from leasing accommodation for a period of time, ranging from 12 months to life. An extra £2.4 million in funding for more than 50 councils tackling rogue landlords was announced in January 2019.

I am also glad that the Tenant Fees Act reduces costs at the outset for tenants and improve transparency in the private rented sector. The Act abolishes letting agent fees for renters, cap tenancy deposits at five weeks’ rent, and save tenants between £25 and £70 per year. This will, in the words of Shelter, “ease the significant financial pressures renters face when moving, whilst making the lettings market more competitive and transparent.”

The Government has also taken steps to improve private renters’ access to longer-term, family-friendly tenancies, publishing a Model Tenancy Agreement which landlords and tenants can use as the basis for longer tenancies.

It is important to understand, however, that private landlords and letting agents operate on a commercial basis. It is reasonable for them to make independent decisions about letting due to the added risk of renting to individuals on Housing Benefit. In 2016-17, 8 per cent of private renters on Housing Benefit were in arrears, compared to only 3 per cent of those not receiving the benefit. Nonetheless, more than one in five of households privately renting are in receipt of Housing Benefit, which suggests that it is possible for claimants to access the sector.

While I recognise that rent controls may sound attractive, I am not aware of any Government plans to introduce them. Evidence from Britain and around the world demonstrates that they can have a negative impact in the private rented sector, leading to poorer quality accommodation and fewer homes being rented.

I also welcome the Government’s measures to require qualified electrical inspectors and five-year checks, which will reduce the risk of faulty electrical equipment and help keep people safe in their homes. The new measures will provide clear guidance without placing excessive cost and time burdens on landlords. The five-yearly mandatory electrical checks were recommended by the Electrical Safety Standards Working Group, and will go a long way to prevent the number of fires, especially considering that 332,000 households in England had experienced a fire in the last two years in 2016-17.

I understand your concerns about the burden of houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licences. First introduced in 2006, HMO licences were extended in October 2018 to apply to certain smaller houses and also set minimum room sizes. This was to ensure that dwellings are not overcrowded and do not present a risk to the health and safety of occupants. I would also note that the majority of local authorities supported these changes, with 79 per cent being in favour of the licensing extension. Regarding the costs of the extension, each local council is responsible for setting the cost of the licence in their area in order to self-finance the scheme by offsetting the costs for processing.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.