Renters’ Reform to be in King’s Speech but is it property inspections that will be the proof of the pudding?

Big Ben And House Of Parliament At Night London 2021 09 02 15 21 18 Utc

With the Renters’ Reform legislation having been alleged, by some, to be missing in action - despite just having gone through its second reading in the House of Commons - the Government has suggested that it will, actually, be in tomorrow’s King’s Speech.

Concerns had been widely expressed amongst the many and varied stakeholders with an interest in its progress towards Royal Assent and later, coming into force as the law of the land. Most of that commentary has been around the headline measure that covers the scrapping of section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notices and the uncertainty over when, or indeed whether, that scrappage will see the light of day as part of actually enacted legislation.

From the Big Issue and Generation Rent to the Financial Times, X (formerly known as Twitter) and Politics Home, there had been reports and mutterings (as well as Government denials) that the proposed legislation was on the verge of being dropped. We won’t really know anything more until the King’s Speech (announcing the next round of plans for the legislative pipeline) and after that there are still several procedural stages, both in the Commons and in the Lords, for the Bill to go through. And, any schedule has to take into account time lost through Parliamentary recess periods and the ‘odds’ on no General Election being called until late 2024.

But there are a lot of moving parts to rental reform beyond the scrapping of section 21 notices. Not least - the setting up and, pre-launch, testing of the proposed Private Rented Sector Database which will then go on to support the “future Privately Rented Property Portal” (which will also need testing) as well as the setting up and staffing of an Ombudsman Office for the private rented sector to which tenants can make complaints. All of which will need to underpin the application to the private rented sector of a new Decent Homes Standard.

It has been mentioned in the past by the Government that they will look to get the database up and running as soon as possible after the Bill becomes law but, so far, there are no smoke signals hinting at any pre-launch testing taking place currently. This testing would need to start relatively soon if the Government wants to keep to the increasingly tight schedule on this particular legislation.

In addition, the Government has now said that the formal scrapping of section 21 notices won’t take place until after the court system has been reformed (or potentially, as lobbied for by the private landlord community, a completely new Housing Court has been created). An expensive and very time consuming project in itself.

What all the above promised proposals have in common is that they are supposed, taken together not in isolation as headlines, to prevent abuse of the private market system by unscrupulous landlords. But, possibly, could it be said that there is at least one fly in the soup?

If so, then that fly (or flaw) would be ‘proof’, or rather, the lack thereof. The database and the portal provide the bases for the provision of evidence, which isn’t the same thing as proof in terms of a given property’s quality or that of its management. Section 21 requires no proof as to why any landlord wishes to terminate a tenancy - hence the need for court system reform if it is to be scrapped; property documentation can be (and has been), effectively, faked; absentee landlords can be much less engaged with their properties than local landlords.

Independently carried out property inspections are one way of providing proof of the standard of any given property. Such inspections are currently only carried out, on a standardised basis, in Local Authority areas where one form or another of property licensing (HMO, Selective or Additional Licensing) is in place.

These inspections aren’t simply equivalent to an inventory type of inspection carried out at the start or end of a tenancy or a normal landlord inspection which any good landlord should periodically carry out. They will assess a property in line with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to show whether there are any ‘hazards’ (currently, 29 hazards are listed in the HHSRS) in a property that could impact the health or safety of the occupants - with the highest and most serious category being a Category 1 Hazard where there is an immediate risk of death or injury. A serious case of damp and mould could, for just one example, come within this category.

Even an otherwise well managed property can experience hazards that both the landlord and the tenant may be unaware of and licensing inspections bring such hazards to light. In Home Safe’s experience, a sample of around 1500 properties where inspections were carried out showed that 4000 issues were found and around 50% of these were Category 1 Hazards of one type or another.

The English Housing Survey of 2021-22 estimated that a quarter of PRS housing (at 23% the figure is double that for the social sector at 11%) failed to meet a basic decency standard. Given that, the setting up of a national register, a portal, an Ombudsman’s Office as well as setting a new decency standard will mark a major improvement. But without the relevant type of inspections, actual proof of decency or its absence may be found wanting.

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