Renters in Wales should get increased security of tenure says Senedd Committee

Published 09/10/2020   |   Last Updated 18/12/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

Should a landlord be able to evict a tenant by giving only two months’ notice, even if the tenant has done nothing wrong? The Senedd’s Equality, Local Government and Communities (ELGC) Committee has agreed with the Welsh Government that the answer is no.

Renting legislation in Wales

The Committee considered this issue and others as it scrutinised the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill(the Bill) earlier this year. The Bill amends the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 (the 2016 Act), which will eventually replace the current system under which nearly all homes are rented in Wales.

The 2016 Act is unusual in that even though it was passed by the Senedd almost five years ago, it has still not been brought into force. It’s currently expected to be commenced in autumn 2021. When that happens, the majority of tenancies and licences in both the public and private sectors will be replaced by new occupation contracts. Assured shorthold tenancies will be replaced by standard occupation contracts. These will be the default contract in the private sector and may be used by social landlords in some circumstances.

Earlier this month the ELGC Committee published its report (PDF, 2.4MB) on the Bill. The Committee supported the general principles of the Bill, making nine recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider.

On Tuesday 13 October the Senedd will debate the general principles of the Bill.

What does the Bill do?

The Bill will amend the 2016 Act before it is commenced. It extends the no-fault notice period for standard occupation contracts from two months to six months. A no-fault notice can be given even where the contract-holder (a new term under the 2016 Act that encompasses tenants as well as licensees) hasn’t broken a term of the contract. The Bill also ensures that a landlord cannot issue a no-fault notice to evict a contract-holder until at least six months from the date of occupancy - that means contract-holders will have a minimum of 12 months security of tenure unless they break a term of the contract. Additionally, the Bill restricts when a no-fault notice can be served during a fixed-term contract. The Bill makes a number of exceptions to the new notice provisions for certain types of standard occupation contract. This means, it will still be possible to bring certain standard occupation contracts to an end by giving two months’ notice.

Why are no-fault evictions used?

Under the existing system of tenancies, no fault evictions are most commonly, but not exclusively, used in the private rented sector. Tenants with assured shorthold tenancies can be given two months’ notice to leave under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 without the landlord having to give any reasons.

Tenants can only seek to stop a Section 21 eviction on technical grounds. For example, if the landlord has given less than two months’ notice. If the landlord has followed the correct procedure, and given the correct period of notice, they will be able to obtain a possession order from the court and evict the tenant.

While the 2016 Act will still allow no-fault evictions, it introduces some safeguards to prevent misuse. For example, where a contract-holder is being evicted so the landlord can avoid carrying out repairs, the court will not have to grant a possession order.

There has long been opposition to no-fault evictions from tenant-focused organisations. Shelter Cymru has campaigned for them to be abolished entirely. It told ELGC Committee in a written submission that its aim was to:

…end the use of mandatory possession altogether, so that every eviction is treated as discretionary and therefore has independent oversight to ensure that it is justified and that steps have been taken to avoid eviction into homelessness

Landlord representatives told the ELGC Committee that while a Section 21 notice might be labelled ‘no-fault’, actually it rarely was. Douglas Haig of the National Residential Landlord’s Association (NRLA) said it was a notice with ‘no-reason’ given and “in the vast majority of cases, it is rent arrears that landlords are claiming this on, or antisocial behaviour.”

Next steps

While the Committee supported the general principles of the Bill in its report (PDF, 2.4MB), it made a number of recommendations, including calling for:

  • A comprehensive post-implementation review of the 2016 Act;
  • Improved data on the private rented sector;
  • Improved engagement with tenants in the private rented sector; and
  • A feasibility study into how a dedicated housing tribunal or court dealing with possession claims could work in Wales.

The Committee also called for some changes to the Bill before it becomes law, including:

  • An exemption to the new six month no-fault notice requirements where properties are used to accommodate ministers of religion; and
  • Clearer links between the proposals in the Bill and homelessness legislation.

The Chair of the ELGC Committee, John Griffiths MS, said on publication of the ELGC Committee’s report that “COVID-19 has shown us that people having security in their homes is crucial”. While the Welsh Government has made a range of temporary changes to notice periods as a result of the pandemic, this Bill provides for permanently increased security.

The Research Service has published a Bill summary (PDF, 2258KB) that provides a detailed overview of the Bill’s provisions and further policy background. This will be updated as the Bill continues its progress through the Senedd.

Article by Jonathan Baxter, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament