The abolition of Section 21 which was arguably the centrepiece of the Renters Reform Bill, has been kicked into the long grass.
The full bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on Monday (23 October) when it passed without a vote. This means it will now go on to the committee stage for a line by line review.
However last Friday (20 October), it emerged that Section 21 would be abolished, but only when improvements are made to the way courts handle legitimate possession cases.
Now we know what those improvements the government has suggested will consist of – and they appear to be substantial improvements which may take some time to introduce.
They begin with digitising more of the court process to make it simpler and easier for landlords to use; exploring the prioritisation of certain cases including antisocial behaviour; improving bailiff recruitment and retention and reducing administrative tasks so bailiffs can prioritise possession enforcement; and providing early legal advice and better signposting for tenants including to help them find a housing solution that meets their needs.
The government also says it wants to strengthen mediation and dispute resolution as a way for landlords to settle problems without resort to courts, and to ’embed this as a member service of the new Ombudsman ‘ – the latter being something all landlords must join, in addition to professional property agents.
The role of the justice system was central to the debate on Monday where many MPs reiterated the need to make the courts fit for purpose before Section 21 is abolished – a point the Housing Secretary made over the weekend in a letter to the Select Committee on Housing. A separate housing court has been ruled out.
The positives were that Housing Secretary Michael Gove repeatedly spoke of the need to balance the needs of tenants and landlords in the progress of the Bill; he also acknowledged issues with the existing Bill.
However, he repeated the government was committed to the removal of Section 21 to prevent bad landlords from intimidating tenants, silencing those complaining about poor standards of housing and the need for repairs.
Alongside this there was a commitment to strengthening provisions under Section 8 to reliably regain possession where necessary, lowering the threshold to prove anti-social behaviour and tackling unscrupulous tenants who abuse provisions to protect the vulnerable.
Having written a piece about what was happening with EPCs (nothing) the very next day our PM announced that they were scrapping any idea that EPCs for rental properties would need to be raised to a C. Glad I said do nothing!!!
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