The Government has made a bit of a song and dance in the last week or so about better family tenancies. However, the picture is a bit hazy and the proposals may actually not amount to much at all.
There are two elements to the new proposals:
- A model tenancy agreement;
- A tenants charter.
The government is proposing to produce a model tenancy agreement in tandem with the industry. However, there is some doubt as to whether this is really much use. A model tenancy agreement will give a few landlords access to a free agreement and this may mean that some who do not bother with written agreements will now do so. However, most landlords will probably be resistant to using such an agreement as they will be uncertain as to its provenance and quality. Given the recent exposure of advice from the DCLG in relation to tenancy deposit protection as being utterly wrong in the Superstrike v Rodrigues case there may also be some hesitation in using a “government approved” tenancy agreement which might well contain flaws.The model agreement will also not be compulsory so it is hard to see how anything in it could lead to a market change unless the government is assuming that most people will use it and so things will later by default.
The government is also planning to introduce a charter telling tenants their rights. This seems a good idea (assuming it is correct of course!) but is again not a definitive statement of the law. Some of the things within it will be dependent on the landlord not simply drafting a tenancy agreement to exclude them again. Again, the fact that it is voluntary makes it unlikely to be a success. The code for commercial leases has led to almost no change in the commercial tenancy sector.
The government is keen on longer tenancies. However, it has promptly undone this statement by saying that it will not force them and that longer tenancies should have a contractual right to terminate early for both the landlord and the tenant. This looks suspiciously like a shorter tenancy with the power to renew, which is what we already have.Possibly the most interesting comment was a further endorsement of the letting agent redress schemes which are proposed to come into force next year. I had (cynically) wondered if these might be quietly dropped but it looks as though that plan remains on track. However, there is no plan to link the model agreement or tenant charter with redress schemes so presumably no method of compelling agents to use them. If the government was serious about either proposal this would have been the easiest way to enforce them.
This all sounds interesting from the press release but the details reveal that it is unlikely to make any real change to the market. At a time when Wales and the other devolved regions are moving to further regulation of the sector it seems that England is determined to take its own course. Time will presumably tell whether stronger regulation or lighter touch is the right way to go.