The UK’s leading charity has spoken out over the policy in Boris Johnson’s manifesto – warning it “undermines” his promise of “a better deal for renters” if he wins the general election.
Crisis and Shelter fear the Tories will revive plans for fixed contracts if so-called no fault evictions are scrapped, arguing it will produce the same end result of vulnerable tenants being turfed out of their homes.
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There is also concern over the plan to allow landlords to repossess a home by arguing it is needed by a family member – with a warning it will be open to abuse, unless properly policed.
“In reality, many tenants have very little negotiating power, particularly people moving on from homelessness,” said Jasmine Basran, policy manager at the charity Crisis.
And Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Fixed-term tenancies don’t give renters the flexibility they need and can have disastrous consequences.
“No one should be locked into a tenancy they can’t afford if they lose their job – nor should someone be faced with another barrier when trying to leave an abusive relationship.”
“There is a significant risk that many tenants will not understand their rights to continue to occupy their home at the end of the fixed term – and that an unintended consequence will be an increase in the numbers of people facing homelessness and potentially being judged intentionally homeless.”
However, the Conservatives defended the plans, arguing there was a need to “ensure greater clarity and fairness in the private rental market” for both landlords and tenants.
The criticism comes after a little-noticed section in the Conservative manifesto which reads: “If you’re one of the many good landlords, we will strengthen your rights of possession.”
The prime minister has been under pressure over the power balance between landlords and tenants since shelving the vow to end no fault evictions in last month’s Queen’s Speech.
The party’s manifesto insists that is still the intention, as well as introducing “lifetime” deposits to avoid tenants having to pay, and reclaim, down payments each time they change properties.
Hailing the “Better Deal for Renters”, the manifesto states: “This will create a fairer rental market: if you’re a tenant, you will be protected from revenge evictions and rogue landlords.”
However, it then adds: “And if you’re one of the many good landlords, we will strengthen your rights of possession.”
It is unclear exactly what is intended, but a previous consultation proposed allowing new fixed contracts, of unknown length, rather than simply “assured tenancies” with no time limit.
They would be introduced by strengthening section 8 of the existing 1988 Housing Act – if section 21 of the same legislation is scrapped, to end “no fault” evictions carried out with no reason given.
In contrast, Labour is pledging “open-ended tenancies” to “give renters the security they need” after section 21 is removed.
And the Liberal Democrats have proposed “longer tenancies of three years or more, to give tenants security and limit rent hikes”.
Landlords had called for section 8 to be “expanded”, to incorporate the wish to sell a property and to allow tenants responsible for anti-social behaviour to be evicted on less-rigorous evidence.
But Crisis urged ministers not to bow to pressure that would revive the risk of sudden evictions by the back door.
“We believe that the beneficial impacts of abolishing assured shorthold tenancies [brought in by the 1988 Act] should not be undermined by the routine use of fixed terms contracts,” Ms Basran added.
The National Housing Federation said removing section 21 would still leave private rented housing as an expensive, loosely regulated sector where it was “hard to hold individual landlords to account”.
“The private rented sector just isn’t suitable for many people – it’s often too expensive and, because it’s relatively insecure, it stops many families from putting down roots,” said Catherine Ryder, director of policy.
But a Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We’ve been consistent that, as we scrap section 21, we need to strengthen section 8 and the grounds of possession. This is to ensure greater clarity and fairness in the private rental market.
“If you are strengthening the rights of renters then the rights of landlords should be clear, especially when they relate to the need to reclaim the property in fair circumstances, such as non-payment of rent or antisocial behaviour.
“At present, the system is slow to respond to these issues. We will consult with landlords and tenants’ groups to make sure the section 8 reforms are fair to both groups.”