The looming Renters Reform Bill, which is currently being kicked around Parliament after years of procrastination, is likely to have the single most significant impact on the rental market in decades.
There are several elements contained within it, most of which seem pretty reasonable, and a number of which are already in place under different guises.
The headliner though is the end of fixed-term tenancies and the abolition of “no-fault” Section 21 evictions. Under the proposals, any tenant will now be able to give a month’s notice, at any time, to end their tenancy. This will give more security to tenants and make it much more difficult for landlords to reclaim their properties.
Whilst this will be a seismic change to the rental market as a whole, the legislation is likely to have the biggest impact on the student sector.
Currently, most students sign a fixed 12-month contract for a full academic year and move in over the summer. Students like the security of a fixed agreement as do landlords; it’s hard to re-fill a large student house halfway through the year with professionals or families. In addition, Article 4 planning restrictions in many cities (including Leeds) could prevent a landlord from re-letting to students in the future if voids are back-filled with families or couples, as this could be seen as a change of use class.
Students secure accommodation well in advance of the next academic year as both tenants and landlords have a pre-determined end date when properties will become available again. By prohibiting fixed tenancies, student tenants would only need to give a month’s notice and could vacate at any point during the year. This indefinite leave to remain means there is no guarantee that the property will become vacant for the following year, making it impossible for landlords (and prospective new tenants) to enter into a new tenancy agreement for the next academic year.
Last summer saw worrying housing shortages in a number of university cities in the UK. Durham had students in sleeping bags camping out the day before housing lists were released, the University of Manchester housed students in Huddersfield, and students from York were being relocated to Hull. Leeds itself is quite finely balanced; the supply and demand is about right, but last year we were turning away larger than usual numbers of students at the back end of the summer as there were simply no rooms still available.
Taking away the security of fixed student tenancies (for both Landlords and tenants) is likely to lead to further reductions in student housing stock as landlords simply exit this market. Even before the proposed changes, accommodation portal StuRents predicted that there would already be a shortfall of 450,000 student bed spaces by 2025.
In Scotland, Section 21 has already been scrapped and large numbers of landlords have left the student market. In cities like Edinburgh, students are couch-surfing, commuting from other cities, or simply cancelling courses.
The current drafting of the bill gives an exemption for Purpose Built Accommodation (PBSA) but not for the typical student house-shares. There is nothing wrong with PBSA – some of the accommodation is excellent- but it’s also expensive and dilutes the student life experience of proper communal living if it accommodates students for the full duration of university education.
Alongside landlord and University groups (including the University of Leeds) we have been lobbying for all student tenancies to be exempt, not just PBSA. It’s not too late to avert a crisis, and there are noises coming out of Westminster that this is at least being considered. Fingers crossed that common sense prevails.
By Richard Napier
Published 19th Jun 2023, 05:00 BST
Updated 20th Jun 2023, 08:44 BST
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