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The 10 Key Changes in the Renters Reform Bill

woman reading about the key changes in the renters reform bill on an ipad

This blog post explains the 10 key changes proposed by the 162 page Renters Reform Bill, and what these changes will mean for landlords. It also sets out which stage we’re at with each change.

The Renters Reform Bill completed the Committee Stage on 28 November, and is finally due to proceed to the Report Stage in the House of Commons in April 2024. This is the current version of the Bill, as amended during the Committee Stage.

In this blog post, I go through each of the 10 key changes that the government proposes from the perspective of landlords. I update it regularly to include amendments as the Bill progresses through parliament.

>> Related Post: Renters Reform Bill Timetable: What happens when

>> Related Post: Renters Reform Bill Hub

Last Updated: 30 March 2024

Overview of what the Renters Reform Bill means for landlords

The Renters Reform Bill has been a long time coming and is, I suspect, something that will end up pleasing no-one. Renters have been saying it’s not gone far enough. And some landlords have accused Michael Gove of “betraying buy-to-let Britain to win the avocado vote”, according to the headline in the Daily Telegraph.

As a landlord who also eats avocado, I step back from all the political fuss to concentrate on what I think this new Bill is likely to mean in practice.

The Bill isn’t an easy read, full of things like: “in subsection (1)(a) for “(4B)” substitute “(4AA)”. This is because it is layered on top of other legislation. These include the Housing Act 1988, the Housing Act 2004 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016. The Bill therefore needs reading alongside these Acts, making it a bit tricky to read. There is now a Keeling Schedule” that shows what the Housing Act 1988 would look like after the Renters Reform Bill is passed, but this doesn’t (yet) include the amendments tabled at the Committee Stage.

It’s important to stress that this is still just a draft Bill. The one thing we know is that it won’t pass into the statute book without further amendments. Large numbers of government amendments were added at the Committee Stage, and more are due to follow at the Report Stage. There will also be new regulations, for instance, for the Decent Homes Standard, and guidance, eg for the implied right for tenants to have pets.

I therefore concentrate on the big picture, explaining what the words on the face of the Bill are likely to mean in practice for renters and landlords alike.

>> Related Post: What’s the latest on the Renters Reform Bill

1. Abolition of Section 21

section 21 with a stamp saying Abolition delayed
What impact will abolishing section 21 have on landlords and renters?

As widely expected, the Renters Reform Bill proposes abolishing Section 21. The abolition of Section 21 was the change most welcomed by renters, and (I think) was the proposal most hated by landlords.

On 20 October 2023, the government announced that Section 21 wouldn’t be abolished until “we judge sufficient progress has been made to improve the courts. That means we will not proceed with the abolition of section 21, until reforms to the justice system are in place.” The announcement gave no indication of how long this would take.

In a letter to Conservative MPs on 27 March 2024, Jacob Young (the Levelling Up Minister) informed them that the government would be amending the Bill to “require the Lord Chancellor to publish an assessment on barriers to possession and the readiness of the courts in advance of abolishing section 21 for existing tenancies”. As this will be part of the Renters Reform Act, it would require primary legislation for a future government to unpick, making it harder for (say) a Labour government to abolish section 21 within the first 100 days of office.

Once the abolition (eventually) comes into force, landlords will only be able to terminate a tenancy using the new Section 8. Tenants will be able to terminate their tenancy by giving two months’ notice.

However, the new Section 8 grounds will only be as good as the court system that administers them, which is why court reform is needed before the paper-based Section 21 process is abolished.

In terms of when Section 21 is likely to be abolished, the earliest is probably some time after October 2025, and possibly 2026, due to the fact the new system was earmarked to come into effect at least 18 months after Royal Assent. However, as the implementation is now linked to court reform, it’s difficult to know when it will happen. In any event, it will be long after the next General Election, which is due to take place before 28 January 2025.

>> Related Post: What the abolition of Section 21 means for landlords and renters

2. Conversion of Assured Shorthold Tenancies into Assured Tenancies

Clause 2 of the Bill abolishes Assured Shorthold Tenancies by deleting the provisions of the Housing Act 1988 (Chapter 2 of Part 1) which regulate Assured Shorthold Tenancies. The Bill also makes extensive amendments to the Housing Act 1988 to implement the new regime. (The government has published a useful “Keeling Schedule” which shows the changes to the Housing Act 1988 that the Renters Reform Bill makes).

This means that landlords won’t be able to grant new Assured Shorthold Tenancies after the first implementation date (at least 6 months after Royal Assent). All new tenancies for tenants who occupy the property as their only or principal home will be Assured Tenancies after that date. Existing Assured Shorthold Tenancies will automatically convert into Assured Tenancies on the second implementation date (at least 18 months after Royal Assent).

Ending of the “AST trap” for leases with ground rent over £250

Where ground rent for long leases exceeds £1,000 in London and £250 outside of London, the lease is currently be considered as an Assured Shorthold Tenancy if the property is the leaseholder’s only or principal dwelling. This means that the landlord could serve a Section 8 Notice using the Mandatory Ground 8 regarding rent arrears if the annual ground rent is more than three months in arrears. This is called the “AST trap”, as a long lease that was never intended to be a short-term tenancy agreement could be treated as an AST.

However, Clause 21 of the Renters Reform Bill brings an end to the AST trap, as it states that tenancies of more than seven years cannot be Assured Tenancies.

3. Abolition of fixed term tenancies including student lets

The Bill abolishes fixed term tenancies for all private residential tenancies, and there will be a single system of rolling periodic tenancies, which will be Assured Tenancies. 

There is currently no exception to exclude private student tenancies, other than those in purpose built student accommodation. The government dismissed the findings of the Levelling Up Select Committee from February 2023 that not excluding student tenancies “could push up rents or reduce the availability of student rental properties, at a time when the market in many university towns and cities is already very tight.” It also ignores their recommendation to retain fixed-term contracts in the student private rented sector.

The Government Guidance justifies abolishing all fixed term tenancies by saying it will “provide greater security for tenants while retaining the important flexibility that privately rented accommodation offers. It will enable tenants to leave poor quality properties without remaining liable for the rent, or to move more easily when their circumstances change, for example, to take up a new job opportunity.”

The likely impact of retaining fixed terms is that student landlords may put increase rents to reflect the fact that most students only want a property from September to May, and not the usual 11 or months.

The original version of the Bill gave tenants the right to terminate a tenancy with two months’ notice at any time. Jacob Young has advised that he will introduce an amendment at the Report Stage that will prevent tenants ending contracts in a tenancy’s first six months, creating a minimum six-month tenancy. He explains: “landlords can rely on a letting period that covers costs of finding tenants and making repairs between tenancies, and prevents tenants using rented properties as short-term lets”.

However, a landlord will only be able to do so if they are successful in convincing a court that they have a valid Section 8 Ground for Possession.

4. New Section 8 Grounds for Possession

Form 3 for Section 8 Notice
Landlords will have to use Section 8 to evict renters

Alongside abolishing Section 21, the Schedule 1 of the Bill widens the Section 8 Grounds for Possession. Click here for a reminder about Section 8.

Landlords will only be able to end a tenancy and evict a tenant if they can prove to the court that they have a valid Ground for Possession under Section 8. Here are the key new and revised Section 8 Grounds in the Renters Reform Bill:

  • Revised Mandatory Ground 1: Occupation as the principal home for landlord or family
    • Only once the tenancy has lasted more than 6 months, and the landlord must give at least 2 months’ notice.
    • The landlord must intend it to be their (or their family member’s) only or principal home. The Bill defines the landlord’s family as including their spouse/partner, and their respective parents, grandparents, siblings, children and grandchildren. It also includes “half-blood” versions.
    • It doesn’t include nieces, nephews, uncles and aunts etc.
    • The landlord can’t relet or remarket the property within 3 months of the date specified the notice.
  • New Mandatory Ground 1A: Sale of property
    • A landlord can only this Ground once the tenancy has lasted more than 6 months, and the landlord must give at least 2 months’ notice.
    • Landlord must intend to sell the property.
    • The landlord can’t relet or remarket the property within 3 months of the date specified in the notice.
  • New Mandatory Ground 5: For occupation as supported accommodation
  • New Mandatory Ground 8A: Repeated Rent Arrears
    • At least 2 months’ rent was unpaid for at least a day on 3 or more separate occasions within a three-year period.
    • If the rent isn’t by calendar month, at least 8 weeks’ rent needs to be unpaid. The landlord must give 4 weeks’ notice.
    • The calculation of rent arrears should exclude any sums due to delays from the payment of Universal Credit. The government clearly wants to excuse its own rental arrears!
  • Revised Discretionary Ground 14: Anti-social Behaviour
    • The wording will replace a reference to guilty of “behaviour causing or likely to cause nuisance or annoyance” with “capable of causing“.
    • Personally, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between the two. However, the Guidance says it will make ASB easier to demonstrate for landlords. As it’s a discretionary ground, the judge will make the decision.
    • The amendments introduced at the Committee Stage include factors which the court must take into account when exercising its discretion, including the impact on others in an HMO.
  • New Mandatory Ground 4A: Student HMO for occupation by students
    • During the Committee Stage, the Bill was amended to introduce a new Mandatory Ground for Possession for student HMOs to allow a landlord to recover possession of an HMO let to full-time students at the end of the academic year (1 June to 31 September), in order to let it to students again. Jacob Young has advised that this Ground will be extended to all properties occupied by students, ie not just HMOs.
    • The landlord must give at least two months’ notice for this.

There are lots of other new and revised Grounds. For further detail, see my blog post which explains how it will work in practice.

>> Related Post: Making sense of the new Section 8 Grounds for Possession

>> Related Post: How to gain possession using Section 8

5. New provisions for rent

Rent spelt out in blocks with model houses
The Bill proposes a new procedure for increasing rent

New single procedure to increase rent in the Renters Reform Bill

The Renters Reform Bill proposes introducing a single way of increasing rent with the following new procedure:

  • To increase the rent, a landlord will need to complete a revised Section 13 form, which will be published on GOV.UK, and serve it on the tenant with 2 months’ notice.
  • If the tenant accepts the proposed rent increase, the rent will change on the rent day after expiry of the notice.
  • If the tenant doesn’t agree with the increase and think it’s above the market rate, they can dispute the increase through referring a case to the First-tier Tribunal. They will need to do this before the new rent is due and let their landlord know.
  • Landlords will only be able to increase rents once a year.

The government will issue guidance “to make sure it is clear for everyone”. The press releases stress that landlords will still be able to increase rents to the market rent. There’s no cap on the amount of the increase. That said, tenants will be able to challenge increases above the market, as they can now.

Whilst I can understand abolishing contractual rent increases, I can’t see the logic of forcing everyone to use an officious notice. It’ll be interesting to hear the reasoning. I’ll probably continue to chat to my tenants before increasing the rent as a courtesy, and then send them the notice afterwards.

New mechanism to repay rent paid in advance

Clause 8 enables a tenant who pays rent in advance is entitled to be repaid any part of the rent that relates to days falling after the end of the tenancy.

>> Related post: A Guide to Increasing Rent

6. New right for tenants to request consent for a pet

cute ginger tabby kitten on a woman's lap
Renters will have a new right to request a pet, which landlords can’t unreasonably refuse

Section 7(1) says that the consent to a request a pet “is not to be unreasonably refused by the landlord”.

This is one of the provisions that’s been causing the most amount of angst in the landlord community, if my WhatsApp groups are a representative sample. This is mostly because of concern over the vagueness of the concept of reasonableness.

On the other hand, it’s also one of the most popular provisions in the Bill for renters, many of whom would love a pet.

The press release on pets issued on 17 May promises “guidance for landlords and tenants before the new rules come into effect”. It also explains that if a renter believes a landlord has unreasonably refused their request, they’ll be able to escalate their complaint to the Private Rented Sector Ombudsman. Alternatively, they could take the case to court. As the Ombudsman will be free for the renter, it’s more likely this will be the preferred route.

We can expect more detail in the coming months, and the DLUHC response to the Select Committee report gave examples of the factors which they anticipated landlords would take into account when making their decision.

These examples included the size of the pet and property, whether the property or common parts are shared with other tenants (this is likely to mean HMOs or flats), allergies or phobias and, “if relevant, access to outdoor space”. A landlord “could likely refuse” if the animal was too big for a small property or if another tenant in a shared house had an allergy or phobia. In other words, no blanket ban for HMOs.

In the meantime, I explain the practical implications of the proposed changes in the blog post below, and have published a model pet policy, based on the one I wrote for my own renters.

>> Related Post: Renters Reform Bill: Tenants’ new implied right to keep pets

>> Related Post: The Independent Landlord Model Pet Policy

7. New Property Ombudsman

According to the government press release of 17 May, the Renters Reform Bill will make it compulsory for all private landlords in England to join a government approved “redress scheme”. This is for all private landlords, regardless of whether they use a letting agent. Landlords will have to abide by the decision of the Ombudsman.

The press release also claims the Ombudsman will “tackle the root cause of problems, address systemic issues, provide feedback and education to members and consumers, and offer support for vulnerable consumers.” The Ombudsman will have real powers. This includes requiring landlords to make an apology, provide information, take remedial action, and/or pay compensation of up to £25,000.

The government publications use the terms “redress scheme” and “Ombudsman” interchangeably, even though they are different legally.

If landlords don’t join the Ombudsman, local councils will be able to take enforcement action against them. This will range from a civil penalty of up to £5,000, through to a £30,000 fine or criminal prosecution. There is also the potential for a Banning Order for repeat offenders.

Clause 74 of the Bill gives the First-Tier Tribunal the right to award a rent repayment order for “continuing or repeat breaches” of the Ombudsman, adding it to Section 40 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016.

Landlords will pay for the costs of the Ombudsman. It will be free for tenants to use if their landlord hasn’t dealt with a “legitimate complaint”. On the other hand, landlords won’t be able to use it if they have a legitimate complaint about their tenants. It’s a one-way street.

During the Committee Stage of the Bill, the minister Jacob Young announced that the government’s “preferred approach at this time is for the existing Housing Ombudsman’s Service to administer redress for both private and social tenants. As an established public body, already delivering redress for social tenants, the Housing Ombudsman is uniquely positioned to deliver the Private Rented Sector Redress Scheme. Having one provider for all social and private renting tenants would provide streamlined and simple to use redress services for complaints”. He added they were still in the early stages of designing the service.

This echoes what Richard Blakeway, the current Housing Ombudsman (for social housing), said during the oral hearings of the Committee: “We are the only approved scheme that does landlord and tenant dispute resolution[…] we need to really distinguish between agent and landlord redress, where the responsibilities of agents are very different from the landlord’s. The Landlord and Tenant Act sets out clear obligations that rest with the landlord and cannot be delegated to the agent.[…] The Landlord and Tenant Act is universal; it does not distinguish between social and private. The decent homes standard potentially extends that. The health and safety rating system is, again, universal. What we need is to bring that together into a single scheme.”

Jacob Young’s announcement means that the PRS Ombudsman will not be combined with the redress schemes for letting agents.

>> Related Post: What we know about the PRS Ombudsman

8. New Private Rented Sector Database (aka Rented Property Portal)

man using a landlord database on a macbook
A new database of dwellings and landlords in the Private Rented Sector

This is another area where a lot was promised in the government guidance on the PRS Database, but there’s very little in either the first draft of the Bill or in the first set of amendments.

The guidance promised that Renters (Reform) Bill will introduce a new Private Rented Sector Database. The Bill proposes a new digital database where each landlord and each “dwelling” will have an entry, and unique identifiers. The database is referred to as the “Rented Property Portal” in the government press release.

As with the Property Ombudsman, the government doesn’t seem to have decided what to call the “database” as it uses refers to both the PRS Database and the Rented Property Portal.

It will be compulsory to have active entries for both the landlord and the property before marketing a property for let. Landlords will pay for the running of the database.

A number of new offences will be introduced relating to the PRS database, including knowingly or recklessly providing material false or misleading information. It will therefore be vital that landlords and letting agents keep accurate records and documentation for the database.

The DLUHC response to the Levelling Up Select Committee said that they expected the penalty system to be “tiered”, with different penalties for different offences. Like the plans for the Ombudsman, it was clear from the DLUHC response that the design of the Property Portal is far from complete.

Clause 74 states that landlords will be subject to rent repayment orders for providing the provision false or misleading information to the database and for continuing or repeat breaches under Section 40 Housing and Planning Act 2016.

We should expect either further amendments to the Bill to include the Rented Property Portal, or draft regulations.

9. Decent Homes Standard for the PRS

Clause 76 and Schedule 3 amend the Housing Act 2004 to include a new system for assessing housing conditions and enforcing housing standards. The Secretary of State has the power to “specify requirements to be met by qualifying residential premises” in regulations.

The government has been consulting on how to apply the Decent Homes Standard to the PRS, and how to revise the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). Once these consultations are complete, it’s expected that new regulations on a Decent Homes Standard for the PRS will be published.

>> Related Post: The Decent Homes Standard

10. Discriminatory practices: No bans on children or benefit claimants

Chapter 3 makes it illegal for landlords and agents to have blanket bans on renting to people who receive benefits or who have children.

The Bill extends the prohibition to lease agreements, mortgages and insurance contracts, by saying that any term in a contract will have no effect.

Final thoughts

Finally, the Bill has been having a rocky stop-start journey through the House of Commons, and we know more amendments are due at the Report Stage of the House of Commons. There are still significant gaps in the detail of key policies,such as the Rented Property Ombudsman, the PRS Database and the implied right for a tenant to have a pet.

The words “offence” and “financial penalties” appear 169 and 52 times respectively in the Renters Renters Bill. It establishes a number of new penalties and offences, including recklessly or deliberately providing materially misleading or false information to the database.

Increasing the range of criminal offences to include what might be an administrative error is something that needs careful scrutiny.

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happy renters in an HMO looking at the 10 key changes in the new renters reform bill

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