Renters Reform Bill

Councillor Tom Renhard is pictured smiling, with college green and trees in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Tom Renhard,
Cabinet Member for Housing Delivery & Homes
and Labour Councillor for Horfield Ward.

The government’s Renters (Reform) Bill has finally been unveiled and, while the overdue plans to ban no fault evictions are welcome, I cannot help but feel that the proposals do not go far enough to tackle the mounting housing crisis being faced in Bristol and across the country. More needs to be done to provide protection for renters and tackle a market that has spiralled out of control.

Bristol’s private rented sector is becoming increasingly unaffordable, leading to serious access and affordability issues which are impacting the wellbeing and quality of life of people in Bristol and playing a major role in creating homelessness. Those in private rented accommodation have lived for too long without adequate protections and with very limited options to guarantee decent living standards.

Some proposals set out in the bill will have positive impacts on renters in Bristol and will also ensure clarity for landlords should they come into effect. Our campaign for a fair rental sector has always acknowledged that most landlords provide decent homes and aim to support their tenants. Solutions to this crisis need to be formed by working together across the sector and we’ve committed to with all parties to take positive action.

While I am pleased to see a basic decent homes standard planned, along with a new ombudsman to oversee the private rented sector, applying home quality standards to the private sector for the first time, the bill does little to address the affordability of renting. It will not provide for the powers for areas like Bristol to intervene in the private rented sector to tackle this issue – which could mean property owners will still find ways to skirt the laws by using large rent hikes to force unwanted tenants out who can’t afford them, even if rent increases are limited to once a year with a minimum two month notice period. Out of control rents mean housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable, pushing many further away from their place of work, family, and support networks.

Plans to make it illegal to refuse tenancies to people on benefits or with children are vitally important and will make sure no family is unjustly discriminated against when looking for a place to live. Banning discrimination against renters on benefits is something we have long campaigned for, making it council policy last year.

I also welcome the introduction of a property portal to act as a database for properties in the private rented sector. I will be looking at the detail of this to ensure what is brought in can be used to its full potential and equip tenants with the information they need about the property they are renting.

A right to request a pet is also a welcome step forward. As a dog owner myself, I know the important role pets can play in our lives. However, we need to ensure that a landlord not being able to unreasonably withhold consent is sufficiently clarified in law.

Here in Bristol, we have been campaigning for renters reform and increased security for tenants for some time, and must continue to put pressure on the government to deliver on their promises. Having a safe and secure roof over our heads is key to ensuring we all have the best possible opportunity to live a happy and healthy life but, unfortunately, many renters still live in fear of spiralling costs and unfair evictions. 

Councillor Tom Renhard is pictured posing with his teams award for Best Coalition End Unfair Evictions at SMK's National Campaigner Awards 2020
Councillor Tom Renhard is pictured posing with his teams award for Best Coalition End Unfair Evictions at SMK’s National Campaigner Awards 2020

We have over 19,000 households on our waiting list for social housing, along with over 1,200 households in temporary accommodation. The cost of renting in this city is one key cause alongside the lack of security that renters have in the private rented sector.

In the Mayor’s 2021 manifesto, we pledged to make Bristol a “living rent city” and lobby central government for the powers to introduce rent controls that work for the city. Since this we’ve worked across the sector to better support private renters, including the roll out of landlord licensing schemes, stamping out illegal ‘no DSS’ discrimination and hosting the first the Renters’ Summit to share their experiences of renting in Bristol.

We also launched the Living Rent Commission, bringing the best, partnership focused organisations together to explore the issues facing renters. As part of its work looking to improve the affordability, quality and tenant experience of the private rented sector in Bristol, the One City Living Rent Commission has looked at how we can improve the sector, including what the impact of rent regulation across the city could be.

An upcoming report, written by the University of Bristol, will be officially launched in the coming weeks, sets out a range of recommendations based on evidence of the challenges we face and potential solutions we could introduce. We have made sure that a wide range of people have been heard during the process, including listening to the lived experience of tenants, residents and landlords.

There are no simple solutions to a crisis of this scale and we know that part of it is about building more homes that are truly affordable. However, the commission has given us an opportunity to bring organisations together to explore the issues facing renters and the sector, to help us develop an approach that works for Bristol and better protects renters.

The report’s recommendations reflect that the powers to regulate the market come from government. Therefore, we must work with Westminster to develop any future policy. The recommendations also highlight the need to continue the constructive dialogue with renters and other stakeholders in the private rented sector to achieve our goal of delivering meaningful and lasting positive change, enabling Bristol to become a Living Rent City.

We recognise that there is substantial support for rent control to help make renting in the city more affordable, however, there are also concerns about negative impacts. Further work will now take place to develop the proposals put forward in the report. This will happen in partnership with sector stakeholders and ensure that tenants’ views continue to be taken into account.