Tenants and campaigners warned Michael Gove not to create a “back door” for unfair evictions as reforms to the private rented sector were unveiled on Wednesday.
The legal overhaul will ban no-fault evictions but strengthen the right of landlords to reject tenants for anti-social behaviour.
The secretary of state for equalisation, housing and communities will announce tenancy reform legislation affecting 11 million private tenants in England.
“Many tenants are living in damp, unsafe, cold houses, powerless to fix things and with the threat of sudden eviction hanging over them,” he said.
But after lobbying from landlords, he will also “strengthen the powers to evict antisocial tenants, widen the disruptive and harmful activities that can lead to eviction and make it more quick to evict a tenant who behaves antisocially”, his department said.
It could mean that tenants are given a two-week notice period for antisocial behavior to eviction and that any behavior “likely” to “cause trouble or annoyance” can trigger eviction.
The bill does not, however, limit the frequency with which landlords can raise rents or rent caps. It is expected to ban drastic rent increases aimed at pushing out tenants. This will be investigated by the new ombudsman for private rented housing and the courts.
It comes four years after the government first promised to repeal the 1988 no-fault eviction law, which had a chilling effect on tenants’ confidence in challenging substandard housing, of which there are an estimated 1m in England.
Since that promise was made by Theresa May and repeated in Boris Johnson’s December 2019 Conservative election manifesto, more than 54,000 homes in the private rented sector in England have been threatened with a no-fault eviction and nearly 17,000 homes have chased away by the bailiffs.
Gove said: “Our new laws introduced in parliament today will support the majority of responsible landlords who provide quality homes for their tenants, while delivering on our manifesto commitment to abolish section 21 without wrongful eviction.
“This will ensure that everyone can live in a place that is decent, safe and secure – a place that they can truly be proud to call home.”
Keir Starmer is expected to announce on Wednesday that a Labor government will reform the planning system and “restore local housing targets”, describing his party as “builders not blockers”.
Labor will be the party of housebuilders, he promised in an interview with the Times, announcing plans to loosen building restrictions in the green belt to help boost local housing supply.
The bill looks set to be subject to fierce debate in parliament over definitions of antisocial behavior and the policing and timing of new decency standards.
Basic standards of decent homes, which already apply to social housing, will be introduced, although there is no timetable for when landlords will have to fix issues such as damp, cold and pests.
This comes as the private rental sector is in crisis. The number of households renting in England will more than double between 2001 and 2021, the census shows, and demand for rentals after the pandemic has risen by 50% on a five-year average – and with the fall in the stock of rental houses, push. the price of the new will rise more than 11% a year in March, according to Zoopla.
Gove will also announce a new right for tenants to ask to live with a pet, which landlords “cannot unreasonably refuse”, and make it illegal to refuse to let those person with benefits or children.
The London Renters Union said the bill was a “huge step forward for tenants forced to live under the threat of ‘no-fault’ eviction” but it said “it will not give us security in our homes”.
“Landlords can get around the new eviction ban by using large rent increases and other ‘back door’ evictions to force unwanted tenants out,” it said.
The housing charity, Shelter, said the bill moved tenants “one step closer to fair, safer housing”, but warned it should be “as robust as possible with every loophole closed so that no tenant is unfairly evicted”.
Toby Lloyd, who was a Downing Street housing adviser when May first promised a ban on section 21 no-fault evictions, said: “Expanding the ability of landlords to get tenancy belonging to anti-social behavior and non-payment of rent should not make a back door route. no wrongful eviction.”
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, warned that the plan outlined so far “lacks detail” and said that without certainty over recovery powers, “the bill will only exacerbate the housing supply crisis of rent that many tenants now face”.
The lobby group is also calling for more staff in the court system to deal with what is expected to be an increase in work when evictions are made for antisocial behaviour.