The end of no fault evictions is a start – but the government still needs to tackle rental costs

Oh, lovely. Image: Getty.

It is absolutely right that people have a secure and stable home, to provide and anchor and a firm foundation for building a better life. This applies to renters as well as homeowners – so the government’s decision to put an end to no-fault evictions is really good news.

Under the current system, landlords can turf their tenants out without having to give them a reason, sweeping many into uncertainty and insecurity. Moving to open-ended tenancies and requiring landlords to prove ‘grounds’, such as rent arrears or damage to the property, will be a major step forward in reforming the private rented sector for the 4.7 million households who currently call it home.

This move, a more significant reform than anything floated in the communities department’s recent consultation on tenancy length, is a big win for the campaigners, many of them grass roots organisations, think tanks and politicians who have been making the case for reform.

It will be a step change for tenants. Research by Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research found that the rising evictions in the private rented sector have been almost entirely due to the increasing use of ‘no fault’ evictions. This has significant impacts for tenants on low incomes, risking pulling them deeper into poverty. This problem can be seen in homelessness figures, where the end of private rented sector tenancies have swept many into homelessness in recent years, with the number of families being accepted as homeless due to the end of a private rented quadrupling between 2012-13 and 2016-17.

What is more, the end of section 21 will give tenants much greater power in the housing market. Under the current system, tenants are often scared to complain to landlords for fear they might be kicked out as a result. Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau found that tenants who had received a section 21 "no-fault eviction" notice were twice as likely to have complained to their landlord, five times more likely to have gone to their local authority, and eight times more likely to have complained to a redress scheme.

As always though, the true impact of this proposal is to be seen and much will depend on the totality of government’s reforms. Firstly, with Theresa May having stated she will stand down as Prime Minister in the not too distant future, the pressure will be on to ensure that any future party leader adopts this position and sees it through into legislation. Secondly, many are rightly asking for further detail, specifically about how the new rules will work with a court system already thought to be too slow to deal with cases.

It is also important that we acknowledge that insecurity in the private rented sector is not only a product of legal structures. The high cost of rent, which sweeps too many into poverty, is also of significant concern. Government will need to set out how they will deal with in-tenancy rent increases if it is to ensure that its new open-ended tenancies are genuinely secure. If landlords can increase rents frequently without good reason, then these tenancies will not offer the anchor that tenants need to keep them steady in hard times.

It is also essential that the social security system effectively supports people to meet their housing costs. Since 2012, Local Housing Allowance has not been increased in line with local rents, meaning that the benefit designed to support housing costs has been disconnected from the actual cost of renting. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, shows that, since 2011, the freeze on Housing Benefit means the number of private renters whose financial support does not meet their rent has grown by 200,000 households. Half those households are families with kids.

If the current policy continues, then by 2025 another 200,000 people will face a gap between their rent and the amount of housing benefit they receive. About half of that growth will occur between now and 2020, when the freeze is due to end.

We must recognise that the private rented sector is not always a tenure of choice. For those on low incomes, too many are renting as they cannot access a genuinely affordable home. This is the result of decades of insufficient social house building and the decision to allow local authorities to discharge their homelessness duty into the private rented sector.

If we want to hold back the rising tide of poverty, then we need to ensure this move towards intervention in the housing market is matched by investment in the 90,000 genuinely affordable homes a year we need.

For now, though, this is a big step forward for people swept into poverty and one that we should celebrate.

Darren Baxter works on housing policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He tweets as @DarrenBaxter.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.