New call for four-year tenancies, rent caps and fewer evictions

Another think-tank has come up with reforms which it wants the government to make to the private rental sector – and its chief objective is to introduce four year standard tenancy durations.

The Centre for Social Justice’s housing commission is chaired by Lord Best, who is also leading some government discussions on reforms to the estate and lettings agency industries.

The CSJ says that as part of its proposed four-year standard tenancy, renters would be able to exit the contract with two months’ notice once the initial six months have passed “retaining the private rented sector’s flexibility advantage.”

The CSJ is also calling for the abolition of Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988; it says that instead, landlords should be given a wider range of legitimate grounds to gain possession of their properties during the fixed term, such as if they want to sell up or move in.

The new standard tenancy proposed by the CSJ would end automatically at the end of the four year fixed term; landlords would be able to renew further four-year terms if rents are successfully negotiated with the sitting tenant.

In the report the CSJ also calls for better security for landlords who have been ‘let down’ by the housing justice system, supporting the creation of a specialist Housing Court to deal with housing cases more quickly and effectively.

Under the new system, tenants would be allowed greater flexibility in making cosmetic improvements to their private rented homes, such as hanging pictures and altering the wall colours within ‘reasonable’ agreed parameters.

The CSJ also suggests reversing the raid on private landlord tax incentives introduced by George Osborne in 2015 in order to maintain ‘healthy’ levels of investment in the sector.

In launching the think tank’s proposals, Lord Best says: “The CSJ is right to stress that while the types of households living in the private rented sector have changed profoundly over the last two decades, the rules governing the sector have not kept apace.

“As the commission found, the prevailing culture of insecurity has harmed both private tenants and landlords alike. The recommendations we advance in this report update the sector so that families are able to put down roots and landlords can feel confident that the system will work for them.”

And CSJ chief executive Andy Cook adds: “I’ve lost track of how many cases we come across at the CSJ of people struggling to address the serious challenges they face – be that an alcohol or drug addiction, a family in crisis, or a child struggling to thrive at school – because insecurity in the private rented sector prevents them from doing so.

“The government should be commended for taking the issue of short-term tenancies seriously. We at the CSJ want to help it get these reforms right so that families can put down roots, tackle the root causes poverty, and build stronger communities.”

The CSJ cites a mother of two in Cheshire who submitted evidence during the commission’s inquiry. She is quoted as saying:

“We made it clear we were looking for five years plus. We were assured by the agent that the house was suitable for a long-term family rent.

“After I reported urgent safety issues with the electrics, gas fire and shower that we discovered on the day we moved in, the landlady now refuses to have any contact with me.

“We now have to move out at the end of January, just six months after moving in. But there’s nothing available in this area that we can afford at the moment.

“We’ve done nothing wrong, and are exemplary tenants who’ve paid up front and just want a quiet family life.

“Our lives have been turned upside down by this nightmare.”

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