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A Charter for Private Tenants Matthew Warburton - 04/10/2013

signing_300In the transcript of Eric Pickles' Conference speech on Tuesday published on the Conservative Party website there are two mentions of housing. One is a claim that housebuilding is now at its "highest rate since Labour's crash, thanks to schemes like Help to Buy".

The other is a call to increase protection against excessive charges to RTB leaseholders. Oddly there is no mention of the Charter for private tenants published over Pickles' name the same day by DCLG. Yet this is a more substantial and better-argued contribution to housing policy than either of the points from his speech.

At the heart of the proposals is a new model tenancy agreement, to be developed in conjunction with the sector, which will "clearly set out the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords", including a right for tenants to request longer tenancies.

The Tenants Charter will inform tenants what they can expect from their tenancy and, if something goes wrong, where to go for help. This will work alongside a new requirement for all lettings agents to belong to a redress scheme, which will be able to investigate when agents have not been clear about fees and, where a complaint is upheld, require compensation to be paid.

The idea is to improve conditions for private tenants without significant changes to current legislation or new burdens on landlords - although there has already been comment in the media about the implications of longer tenancies for buy-to-let mortgages.

But there is no intention to impose the new model tenancy agreement on landlords or tenants, so it remains to be seen whether it will be taken up. In areas where there is high demand for private tenancies, new tenants have little leverage and so are unlikely to be able to insist that the model tenancy is used or to get a longer tenancy if they want one.

The question is - how many landlords care enough about their public reputation to wish to be seen to be working with the new proposals? We shall see. It is welcome that the Government has acknowledged the need for action on private tenants rights, but it remains to be seen whether the improvements that are needed can be secured without providing tenants with formal legal rights they do not currently enjoy.

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