Update on improving security of tenure
The Minister for Housing and Local Government has made a statement about security of tenure for private sector tenants. It is a step to additional protection that I welcome as we move to ensure that people who rent get a fairer deal. I will continue to campaign for improved security and monitoring the impact of today’s announcement will be important, but I am happy we hav emade progress in Wales. Statement as follows:
“This statement provides an update on the government’s proposals for extending the minimum notice period for ‘no fault’ evictions under the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016. The consultation closed earlier this month, and the responses are currently being considered and I will of course update members further in due course.
Ahead of that I want to make clear what is being proposed. Our approach is to amend the 2016 Act in order to deliver on the commitment to improve security of tenure in the private rented sector, and for the amended Act to then be implemented before the end of the current Assembly term.
The consultation proposed tripling, from two months to six months, the notice that a landlord must give when seeking to end a standard occupation contract under section 173 of the Act. This would apply in those cases where a landlord does not have to provide a reason for ending the contract. The consultation also proposed restricting the issue of a section 173 notice until six months after the occupation date of the contract. The Act currently sets this at 4 months.
Taken together, the effect of these two key features would be that contract holders would enjoy 12, instead of 6, months initial security of tenure – subject to compliance with the terms of their contract of course.
I appreciate that some Members may feel this falls short of a ban on so called ‘no fault evictions’ but I want to stress that the dual impact of implementing Renting Homes and seeking to extend the notice period for section 173 possessions will deliver substantial benefits to contract holders. Improving the security of tenure is our aim and I firmly believe that is what these proposals deliver and that contract holders in Wales will not be ‘short changed’ compared to their counterparts in other parts of the UK.
In Scotland currently, and under the proposals being consulted on for England, there are grounds where tenants who are not at fault can still be evicted with only two months’ notice, such as when the landlord wishes to sell the property or to move into it themselves. Under our proposals, in all circumstances other than when the landlord is seeking possession for a specified breach of the contract, the tenant, or contract-holder, will be entitled to a minimum notice period of six months.
Ultimately, I consider the length of time that someone has to find a new home is more critical than whether or not the landlord has a reason to seek possession. Therefore, under our proposals, even where a landlord intends to sell the property or live in it themselves, contract-holders will have much more time to make the necessary arrangements for themselves or their dependents, such as their child’s school or those they care for and to find a property more suited to their needs. It will also give those that are able to do so more time to save and those who are less able, more time to engage the necessary support and assistance.
I have also considered how best to maximize improvements to the private rented sector at the earliest opportunity. It is my view that to do this we need to ensure the many benefits of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act are implemented without further delay. I am sure I need not remind members that since the legislation was passed, we have been held back on implementing it due to the need for court systems to be changed. Having now reached a solution I am keen to press ahead with full implementation by the end of the current Assembly term. I will shortly be writing to every member reminding them of the positive changes for every tenant in Wales as a result of this Act but I want to set out some of the main ones now.
The Act will improve security by replacing the current complex areas of housing law with a fairer and simpler legal framework. It will also require landlords to issue a written statement of their occupation contract, which clearly sets out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and those renting from them.
The Act will also provide other benefits, such as setting out the landlord’s obligation to ensure the dwelling is fit for human habitation. Here regulations can be used to prescribe specific matters and circumstances to which regard must be had for example, including requirements for electrical safety testing, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. There are provisions which will make it easier for a contract-holder’s dependents or relatives to succeed to a contract. Those in supported accommodation will also, for the first time, have a clearly defined set of terms underpinning their occupation, helping them to understand and enforce their rights. To help ensure abandoned properties are re-let as quickly as possible, the Act also specifies a new procedure for the possession of abandoned dwellings.
There are, therefore, two strands to our plans to improve security before the end of the Assembly term – to implement Renting Homes and to provide further protections for contract-holders when subject to a section 173 notice, which is the matter upon which we have just consulted.
Returning to that consultation, I am pleased to say that over 850 people or organisations responded. Responses were weighted heavily on the side of landlords and agents, which is understandable given the direct link we have to them through Rent Smart Wales. Whilst we did receive some responses directly from individual tenants, we are aware that organisations such as Shelter Cymru ran their own consultations to formulate their response.
I am not surprised by this level of interest because how a landlord can seek possession and the impact any resulting eviction can have on tenants has always been an issue which generates strong feelings. I am therefore, pleased by the level of response and officials have been meeting with key stakeholders to gather further views that can be considered alongside the analysis of consultation responses.
Ahead of that thorough consideration, there are two important things to remember. Firstly, whilst it is not my intention to remove section 173 entirely, the changes being proposed, if implemented, would remove the incentives for landlords to use it in the same way they use section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 now. I expect this to significantly limit the circumstances in which it is used.
This is because the changes would mean that if tenants pay their rent on time, look after the property and are not breaching any terms of their tenancy agreement, then they will have significantly increased security of tenure – twice as much in fact as there would be twelve months’ security at the outset rather than six. They will also no longer have the constant worry of potentially needing to move with only two months’ notice after that.
The second important thing to remember is that landlords will retain their ability to seek possession where there is a breach of the contract, including in the case of rent arrears or anti-social behavior. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act already contains the necessary provisions and the consultation did not propose extending notice periods in those circumstances.
Llywydd, we have already done a lot to ensure the private rented sector is well regulated and able to offer high quality homes to those who choose to rent. But, there is more that can, and should, be done. That is why we are committed to providing greater security for tenants and I believe that my proposals do just that. Should they be enacted their impact will be kept under review so we can identify the impacts of the policy on the rental market, whether it has improved security for contract-holders, and whether further change is needed”.