Liz Truss – or whoever replaces her – has tenants to deal with

UK estate agents are turning pessimistic as house prices fall

This week is Renters’ Rights Awareness Week (Image: Getty Images)

It feels like an eternity since the Tories were first elected in 2010.

With more prime ministers than I can count, the party’s meaningless slogans have drifted from “sunlit highlands” to “barely managed” and then “weathering the storm”.

And Liz Truss is certainly in the eye of a storm right now.

Her mini-budget was torn to shreds by a new chancellor less than a month after her old chancellor delivered it; six Tory MPs have openly called for her resignation and many more are doing so behind her back; and 77% of Britons now reject their government.

But one thing has certainly remained constant during those long 12 years of Tory misgovernment – their utter failure to improve the lives of Generation Rent, that group of people unable to climb the housing ladder.

The writing has been on the moldy, crumbling wall since spring 2019, when Theresa May promised a ban on no-fault Section 21 evictions, where landlords can evict tenants at short notice and for no reason.

The difficult conditions make life very challenging for tenants

This unfulfilled promise was put forward by Boris Johnson in his election manifesto in December of the same year.

And then again in the Queen’s speech earlier this year.

And yet *again* by Liz Truss last week at the Prime Minister’s Questions.

But it was never delivered.

Small wonder when you’re dealing with a party that rejected a law in 2016 requiring landlords to make their homes “livable”, and when even a quarter of their own MPs are private landlords themselves.

Still, a whole raft of rent reform legislation is badly needed – we can’t wait any longer.

This week is Tenant Rights Awareness Week. So let me just tell you about some of my constituents who are among the 4.4 million people in the UK who live in the private rental sector.

One had condensation in her bedroom, so she slept on a mattress in her living room (which doubled as a kitchen) for nearly nine weeks, spending hundreds of pounds heating and drying the room to no avail.

The walls felt wet, bubbled and moldy. They had frequent coughs and sore throats, their fingers often wrinkled when they woke up, and their mental health was severely impaired.

The landlord’s response? A visit from a moisture specialist and a promise to “look into” the problem – but do nothing.

An NHS nurse in Brighton I spoke to had to deal with a broken oven and washing machine and was struggling to survive on expensive microwave meals and laundry services.

Prime Minister Liz Truss speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London. PA photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 19, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS PMQs Truss. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire

Liz Truss needs to help tenants – now (Image: UK Parliament)

And that’s before we get to their stormwater leaks and damage, flooding, and a structurally unsafe building.

Anyone would find life in these conditions physically and mentally exhausting, let alone a frontline healthcare worker – but with landlords who too often are willing to refuse to repair, replace or renovate properties many people broken.

It’s not just the dire conditions that make life so challenging for renters.

These above no-fault evictions are on the rise.

Almost 20,000 households in England were made homeless by landlords in this way last year, up from almost 9,000 in the previous financial year.

And the government itself is evidently aware of the problems.

That June, then-Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove released a new report on the private rental sector.

In his foreword, he explained: “More than 2.8 million of our fellow citizens are paying to live in houses that are not fit for the 21st century … far too many renters live in damp, dangerous, cold houses and are powerless to support the to put things right, and with the threat of sudden eviction hanging over them.’

But he has since been fired and there seems to be no rush to implement reforms.

So what do we do? The Section 21 bill urgently needs to be brought before Parliament – to end the innocent evictions once and for all.

The government’s proposals that new rentals must achieve energy efficiency class C by 2025 should become binding without delay.

And we need to go further – introduce an eviction ban and rent freeze to deal with the immediate winter crisis until at least May 2023, and then provide funding to support people in debt after that.

UK inflation has hit a 40-year high at 10.1%; private rents are sky high; we have some of the most leaky housing stocks in Europe; and rented households in England have the coldest, lowest quality housing of any other property; a weather agency is also warning that we could face an even colder winter than usual.

Our government has a duty to offer tenants financial stability, fair rents and warm homes – and some much-needed reassurance at a time of potentially great uncertainty.

It’s time to change the law and bring in the promised Renters Rights Bill now.

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Justin Scaccy

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