Renter reforms could shake up student living

Plans put to MPs by Michael Gove include new protections and rights for renters, including students outside the PBSA market

A government white paper that sets out far-reaching reforms of the private sector rental market could spell significant changes for students, including new rights to reclaim rent for substandard houses.

Levelling up secretary Michael Gove presented to parliament the policy paper, which included new rights and contingencies that extend to student renters.

Among the pledges is a “powerful new Ombudsman”, designed to settle disputes out of court with a “fair, impartial, and binding resolution”. All private landlords would be required to join the register, which will empower the arbiter to handle cases of poor landlord behaviour, property standards and repairs. The government’s Building Safety Act 2022 will include provisions for the new ombudsman. A new Decent Homes Standard (DHS) will set new minimum standards for all rented properties covering health and safety, hygiene and cleanliness, heating, quality of facilities and noise insulation.

The government intends for the ombudsman to have powers to “compel landlords to issue an apology, provide information, take remedial action, and/or pay compensation of up to £25,000”. The government said it is considering whether purpose-built student accommodation, which accounts for approximately 30% of the student rental market, should be included in the jurisdiction of the ombudsman.

Local authorities will gain new powers to tackle criminal landlords, although the paper does not specify the nature of these powers or the funding levels to implement them. The government paper says that councils “struggle to crack down on non-compliant landlords due to a lack of robust data and information”, which begets the need for “a new Property Portal to make sure that tenants, landlords and local councils have the information they need”.

Elsewhere, there are proposals to abolish so-called “no-fault” evictions, with changes to Assured Tenancy and Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements. The proposals mean renters could give two months’ notice before leaving a tenancy and the right to remain in a property for two months after the end of a contract. On students, the government paper says they should “have the same opportunity to live in a secure home and challenge poor standards as others in the PRS. Therefore, students renting in the general private rental market will be included within the reforms, maintaining consistency across the PRS.”

There are proposals to tackle rent increases, including requirements that tenants receive at least two months’ notice of rises and the right to challenge excessive increases. Plans to consider limiting the deposits landlords can request before a tenancy are still under consideration. The paper notes that students are often required to pay deposits several months in advance, meaning they are sometimes required to submit deposits on two separate properties simultaneously.

Read more: Equitable rents for disabled students ‘won’t break any banks’, says Unipol chief exec

Related news: New national PBSA code includes penalties for construction delays

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