The government has today (17 January 2018) updated the How to Rent guide again.
The How to Rent guide was introduced by the Deregulation Act 2015 and is required to be given to all new tenancies and all existing tenancies which are renewed. It is also necessary to update it when an existing tenancy where it has been served already becomes periodic and on any renewal. Therefore a change to the guide sets off a flurry of activity across the private rented sector. Any landlord or agent who fails to spot this important change is at risk as a section 21 notice is no valid unless the correct How to Rent guide has been provided to the tenant.
Frustratingly, for a change with such important ramifications, the guide has been updated to make the most minor of alterations. This is to remove references to the London Mayor’s London Rental Standard which was abandoned by the Mayor back in May 2017. Given that this was over six months ago it has hardly been a rush job and the change could easily have waited to bring together some material that was of value to tenants. For example, the DCLG (as it then was) had previously suggested that it would be putting information about the Homelessness Reduction Act in the guide, this does not appear to have made it in this version. Equally, if it had waited a few months the MHCLG (to give it its new name) could have added information on banning orders for landlords (expected in force in April 2018), the rogue landlord database, and Karen Buck MPs legislation on fitness for human habitation. Presumably, the guide will now be changed again at some future date to mention all of these. Frankly, the guide could also just have been improved so that it was less dull and more immediately useful to tenants! These opportunities have all been missed.
While all landlords and agents should be aware of this change there is no requirement to immediately rush out and provide copies of the updated guide to all tenants. There is only a need update the guide where a tenancy has been renewed or moves from a fixed term to a statutory periodic tenancy. Tenants who are currently within a fixed term do not need to be given a replacement version of the guide. However, any tenant who is getting a new tenancy or is having their tenancy renewed must get a copy of the guide before they are served with a section 21 notice. It is likely that this will be missed in a lot of cases and there will be a large number of defective s21 notices and possession cases that will fail as a result.