Last October was when we first heard about the Housing and Planning Bill which includes a number of proposals that concern the Private Rented Sector (PRS) and particularly landlords.
The Bill isn't law yet but has been making its way through Parliament at a steady rate since October – with a Second Reading taking place a few weeks ago in January.
The purpose of the Bill's PRS proposals is to make it easier for councils to identify the small minority of criminal landlords and letting agents and ultimately stop them from letting property in the future.
If these measures are implemented successfully, they could help to improve the industry's public reputation and reduce the very small number of instances where tenants are exploited or renting sub-standard property.
As the Bill moves closer to becoming law, we've taken note of how the narrative surrounding it has been developing recently...
What's in the Housing and Planning Bill?
First, a quick refresher…
Among plenty of housing policies, the Housing and Planning Bill holds three that are of particular interest to landlords, letting agents and tenants.
Database of criminal landlords and letting agents
- The first is the establishment of a database of criminal landlords and agents that will be maintained by local housing authorities.
Banning orders for criminal landlords and letting agents
- The second is to make it possible for criminal landlords or agents to be banned from letting property if they are served with a 'banning order offence'.
- The third is the proposal to introduce rent repayment orders which could see convicted landlords repay rent to tenants or local housing authorities.
The Second and Third Readings
After a Second Reading in early November and a Committee Stage which ran through to December 10, the Housing and Planning Bill received its Third and final House of Commons Reading on January 12.
Some 309 MPs voted in favour of the Bill and 216 voted against, culminating in a majority of 93. According to Letting Agent Today, this strong majority means it's now highly likely the Bill will pass into law some time later this year, maybe even before the summer.
The Bill then passed to the House of Lords on January 13, when it received its First Reading. It then had its Second Reading on January 26 and the House of Lords Committee Stage will begin later this month.
Fit for human habitation?
Before the vote on the Bill's Third and final Reading in the House of Commons, the Labour Party, led by Shadow Housing Minister Teresa Pearce and Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North, tabled a late amendment.
The amendment was to put forward a condition that all rented accommodation must be 'fit for human habitation'.
It aimed to resurrect an 1885 law which allows tenants the right to a home that is fit for human habitation – whatever the rent charged.
The Labour Party was concerned that current laws require landlords to fix things that have fallen into disrepair but there are no legal obligations for them to tackle problems like mould and condensation.
Karen Buck drew attention to a set of figures which she suggested showed that local authorities were not doing enough to tackle the problem of criminal landlords and agents.
A survey of 120 local authorities revealed that in 2013 only 14,000 homes were inspected for having poor living conditions, despite councils receiving over 51,000 complaints.
The amendment was defeated by 312 votes to 219 – a majority of 93.
A number of Conservative MPs, including Marcus Jones, admitted they voted against the amendment because they felt it would result in further costs and red tape for landlords.
Some MPs were criticised for voting against the amendment due to their status as private landlords. For example, it was revealed by the International Business Times that 72 Conservative MPs voted against the proposals, all of whom earned at least £10,000 a year from letting property.
The publication also reported that another 33 MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP all abstained from voting on the measure due to their status as private landlords, as did another 23 Conservatives.
The Local Government Association (LGA) – which represents more than 370 English and Welsh Councils – has been keeping an eye on the Bill and is keen for the Government to do more to tackle criminals.
An LGA spokesman, Peter Box, said that the extra funding being put aside to help councils take on rogues as well as the Bill's proposals for a database of offenders, were positive steps forward.
However, he made it clear that the LGA believes the database should be properly resourced and that the prosecution process should be speeded up so that illegal eviction cases can be brought to court sooner.
As you can see, the Bill is not far away from becoming law as it has already successfully passed through the House of Commons with potentially strong support. It has now passed seven of the eleven stages it needs to complete before gaining Royal Assent.
Its next step is the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, which began on February 9. After that, it's the House of Lords Report Stage, followed by the Third Reading in the Lords. It will then have to go through the Consideration of Amendments Stage before receiving Royal Assent – which is when it becomes law.