If you were in Westminster this week you will have struggled to miss the members of Extinction Rebellion demanding action from our politicians to stop cooking the planet. If you were anywhere near the Ministry of Housing, you might also have spotted one of the culprits behind the climate emergency: a removals van.
Right now if you’re a renter, thanks to a law called section 21, you could be told to leave your home with just two months’ notice. It might be because you’ve complained about the single glazed windows in your home or a leak in your roof. And what that means is hauling your worldly possessions across town, not to mention another trip to IKEA to try and make your next house loosely resemble a home, and not a squat.
So that’s why yesterday we found ourselves lugging a replica van down to the heart of government , to deliver a message for the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick: England’s 4.5m private renters need somewhere to call home.
The government has already taken a major, welcome step towards this, with a promise to abolish Section 21, the right of landlords to evict tenants without needing a reason. Its consultation on how this will work in practice closes this Saturday.
The proposals are designed to stop unscrupulous landlords evicting tenants for no good reason or using the threat of an eviction to bully tenants into staying quiet about mistreatment or disrepair. It’s no surprise that private rented homes are more likely to be classed as unsafe when landlords who don’t want to provide a decent home can avoid their obligations by turfing out tenants who try to exercise their rights.
Many landlords tell us they want their tenants to stay long term. But because every landlord has Section 21 up their sleeve, few tenants know for sure that their landlord definitely won’t get annoyed enough to serve an eviction notice when the cooker breaks.
That’s why the government wants to require landlords to provide – and prove – valid grounds in order to take back their property. Tenants would have more confidence to make requests and develop good communication and trust with their landlord. Clearer expectations make it easier to plan our lives.
But the proposals have gaps that could keep tenants in a precarious position. An unscrupulous landlord could avoid the evictions process altogether and try to raise the rent to an unaffordable level. While tenants would be able to challenge rent hikes at a tribunal, decisions are based on what the market rent is, so if you live somewhere that’s got fashionable in recent years (hello East Londoners), you could still get priced out for speaking out.
The proposals also contain grounds for eviction that mean tenants can lose their home for reasons outside their control: if the landlord wants to sell up or move back in.
In both those cases, a decent landlord would make alternative arrangements: to sell to another landlord with the tenants in situ, or find somewhere else to live. Whether they like it or not, landlords are running a business and their personal decisions should not trump the interests of their customers.
If there is no option but to take back possession, landlords should have a duty to help rehouse their tenant – that means giving them plenty of time to find somewhere new and covering the costs of finding a new deposit, paying rent on two properties at the same time, and getting a removal van. According to the English Housing Survey, nearly two-thirds of private tenants have no savings, so Section 21 is currently plunging thousands of tenants into debt and putting unnecessary strain on local councils’ homelessness teams. This would continue under the current proposals.
Safeguards around “no-fault” grounds for eviction would help tenants during what is a stressful time whoever wanted to end the tenancy, encourage landlords to find alternatives that don’t involve someone uprooting their life, and cut the numbers experiencing homelessness.
We have put these demands in an open letter to Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson, which has so far been signed by more than 50,000 supporters of the End Unfair Evictions campaign. We have also whittled the long, dry consultation down to a survey with the most important questions to make it as easy as possible for renters to be heard as the government considers responses to the consultation.
And as the urgency of action on climate change builds there are a couple more modest benefits of overhauling tenancy law. You will have more incentive to ask for your home to be insulated properly. And without thousands of unwanted moves every year, we would eliminate the carbon emissions of thousands of trips by removal vans.
Dan Wilson Craw is director of Generation Rent. The End Unfair Evictions coalition is made up of Generation Rent, ACORN, London Renters Union, Tenants Union UK and New Economics Foundation.