Around 4.5 million of us rent our homes here in the UK, which can be both an expensive way to live and a precarious one: if your landlord decides to sell up or raise the rent, there’s little you can do.
The government has recognised the size of the rental market – and the fact that young people are now waiting longer before buying their first home – and have been gradually strengthening tenants’ rights over the past few years. Examples such as the ban on excessive agency fees and the proposal to make it easier for tenants to rent with pets show how the government are trying to improve support for those who rent their homes.
Now with the challenges of coronavirus, the government has stepped in to provide even stronger rights for renters – most notably the temporary ban on evictions.
Evictions have been banned since the start of March last year, meaning that landlords are not currently able to send bailiffs round to enforce evictions. This is now expected to last until May, at which point the government will be looking at alternative options.
This has been done to avoid overloading public, which are often required to step in when people lose their housing. It also addresses the risk that people who are evicted from their home may find themselves more exposed to the virus.
Landlords can still serve notice of eviction, although they are currently required to give their tenants six months warning – a far longer notice period than would usually apply.
Longer term concerns
There is some concern that tenants who have found themselves in arrears with their rent – perhaps because of income loss due to Covid-19, or other financial difficulties – will find themselves in a difficult situation once the ban is lifted.
Chief executive for the housing charity Shelter, Polly Neate, highlighted their concerns:
“as we follow the roadmap out of lockdown, the destination for renters remains unknown. The pandemic has repeatedly exposed just how broken private renting is, leaving many people hanging onto their homes by a thread.”
The government are making some steps towards addressing this, with a ‘renters reform bill’ due later this year. Right now, it’s still unclear exactly what this bill will cover. However, it’s expected to look at abolishing section 21 notice, the law that means currently landlords can evict tenants without giving a reason. If that goes ahead, it could go some way towards reassuring those who find their rental situation slightly unstable.
The government are also looking at the possibility of introducing so called ‘lifelong’ deposits. These are deposits which would carry over from one rental property to the next, making it easier to move between homes.
With rental increasingly being a long-term option for those who either can’t afford to but or who prefer the flexibility that renting offers, the possibility of long-term measures to make things easier for tenants can only be a good thing. Our top advice to renters is to make sure you know your rights. If you’re concerned that your landlord is not playing fair, an organisation such as Shelter may be able to help.