What do renters and landlords want from would-be MPs?

A man with dreadlocks and piercings standing outside a house
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Dai Arnold is living with his parents after facing two no-fault evictions

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Is the West Midlands' rental market the region's biggest social issue of our time?

I have been speaking to tenants, landlords and housing professionals ahead of the general election to ask them about reform.

'Two no-fault evictions were terrifying'

Dai Arnold, 46, lives with his parents in Hampton Magna in Warwickshire after being served a Section 21 notice, external earlier this year.

It's the second time he had faced a no-fault eviction – he claimed on both occasions the landlords wanted to sell the property.

He believed renters should be given more time to respond, above the legal notice period of two months in England.

"It's terrifying, you don't know what's going to happen. You're suddenly in panic stations mode because you're not only looking for somewhere else to live but also the logistics of storing all your belongings. It's incredibly stressful," he added.

Mr Arnold, who is also on a council housing waiting list, is not confident reforms will offer tenants more support.

"There's a big part of me that thinks get rid of [Section 21], it's not fair but another part of me thinks something else will appear in its place… a bit like pushing bubbles down on wallpaper," he said.

"I'd also like there to be some kind of cap on rents because for some landlords it's a business and paying their mortgage but there are occasions where it's borderline profiteering - when demand for lettings is so high, they can effectively charge what they want."

Image source, PA Media
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There is cross-party agreement reform is needed in the rental market

The Renters (Reform) Bill expired with the shut down of Parliament for the election.

It contained a move to abolish the controversial Section 21 - or no-fault - eviction, where landlords do not have to provide a reason for moving tenants out.

With a few weeks until the general election, there does appear to be cross-party agreement that reforms are needed to strengthen the rental market.

Most parties have now gone on record saying they would get rid of no-fault evictions if they win power.

The Conservatives said they would also deliver "other grounds for landlords to evict private tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour".

The Liberal Democrats said they would abolish Section 21 making "three-year tenancies the default and create a national register of licensed landlords".

While before the ending of Parliament, Labour sources indicated the party would have backed the Renters (Reform) Bill as it stood.

The Green Party said it would campaign for councils to be allowed to impose rent controls as well as banning no-fault evictions.

Meanwhile, landlords told us they felt unfairly portrayed - particularly in the media - as being unscrupulous and abusing Section 21 when most provided excellent quality accommodation and fostered good relationships with tenants.

'Problem tenants cost me thousands'

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Landlord Louise Lawrence said it can take up to 18 months to evict nuisance tenants

Louise Lawrence manages 18 properties in Birmingham and Lichfield and became a landlord in 1997.

She said she had faced escalating costs due to further regulation of the market and maintenance fees.

At the same time, she said there had been more tenants in rent arrears in the past two years than at any other point in the business and in some cases up to £10,000 of damage had been caused.

"We always try to negotiate before a Section 21… in terms of damage we would go down that route quite quickly if we couldn't control the problem. If they're trashing the property there’s an element of antisocial behaviour as well," she said.

Ms Lawrence said the process could be too lengthy.

"I don’t personally have a problem with the abolition of Section 21 as long as the courts are beefed up to speed up the eviction of problematic tenants," she said.

"Currently it can take anywhere between 12 and 18 months to evict them and all that time they are causing more problems."

'Rentals are at an all-time low'

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Estate agent Katie Fitzgerald said many owners serve Section 21 notices so they can sell

Katie Fitzgerald is based in Evesham and a senior lettings negotiator for Sheldon Bosley Knight.

In her branch since January, 11 tenants have been served Section 21 eviction notices by clients.

In most cases she said it was due to the owner wanting to sell the property or move in themselves rather than reasons of rent arrears or anti-social behaviour.

"Realistically, if you abolished Section 21 and strengthened other parts of the Housing Act including Section 8 - where a reason is given for an eviction - there would be no real difference for a best practice because most [landlords] communicate effectively with their tenants," she said.

"But with mortgage rates going up, a lot are deciding to sell up and exit the market.

"In fact the number of new landlords coming in is about the same now as those leaving – stock levels are virtually at an all-time low, demand for homes is higher and rents are therefore going up," she added.

Rents for new lets increased by 6.6% in the year to April but this was the slowest annual rise for two-and-a-half years, according to property portal Zoopla.

The firm said the average rent on a new let had risen by £80 a month compared with a year earlier and although demand had eased, there were still 15 people on average chasing every home for rent.

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