More protection for tenants is on the horizon, but how long is the wait?
This article was produced by Toby Girdler from Capital Law.
Back in 2016, the Renting Homes (Wales) Act (RHWA) was introduced. It proposed a complete overhaul of the rental housing system in Wales, with the aim of making the process more straightforward and affording better protections for landlords and tenants. We are now in 2021, and the Act is still not fully in force. While this is frustrating for those eagerly awaiting the Act’s enforcement, this does mean that the Welsh Government has plenty of time to assess the Act. In fact, they have already amended it. While these amendments grant some enhanced protection for tenants, the key question is when the Act will actually be in force?
(For more information on the RHWA itself, see here: https://law.gov.wales/public-services/housing/classes-occupation)
On 23 February this year, the Welsh Government passed the Renting Homes (Amendment) (Wales) Bill. This brought a number of changes to the proposed Act, primarily focused on giving standard occupation contract-holders (tenants) the most protection from landlords as possible.
Under section 173 of the Act, a landlord can give their tenant notice to give up possession of the property on a specified date. While in the original Act this notice period had to be at least two months, the Bill has increased this minimum period to six months. Furthermore, the landlord cannot issue such a notice until at least six months into the fixed term of the contract.
This effectively gives tenants a year of safety to enjoy their property, without fear of unexpected notice from their landlord, as long as they comply with the terms of their contract. This is an essential protection, not only to ensure tenants some security, but also to avoid landlords making any unfair assumptions about their tenants in the early days of the contract.
The new protections have also addressed break clauses in contracts. In fixed term contracts of less than two years, the landlord is not permitted to include a break clause at all. In addition to this, any break clause cannot be activated by the landlord until at least 18 months into the contract.
But don’t think that landlords have been let down. If the tenant is in breach of their contract, these new changes will not apply and the landlord will have the usual rights of eviction.
These new protections, in addition to the revised framework put forward by the Act itself, are a step in the right direction for a rental system that is fair and transparent. However, they are not yet in force, and not expected to be until next year. So where does that leave Wales in the meantime? Like most things, the pandemic looms large over the law in this area.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced temporary measures to be in place over the course of the pandemic, to ensure that tenants were afforded greater protection from eviction during such a difficult and complex time.
These temporary provisions, like the RHWA, introduced a minimum notice period to landlords of three months, rather than four weeks.
In a recent statement the Welsh Minister for Climate Change, Julie James, announced another extension for these provisions, taking them up to the end of 2021. This being more than a year after these measures were originally expected to last until. Obviously, the reason for this is the ongoing impact of Covid on all of our lives. However, it is understandably frustrating for tenants in Wales when there is a clearer Act, which affords them better protection, waiting in the wings. More importantly, once it has been introduced, the RHWA is permanent.
Clearly, the implementation and approval of Acts such as the RHWA takes time. The Welsh Government have now confirmed that the Act, with amendments made by the Bill, will be brought into force in Spring 2022. If the Coronavirus provisions are not extended again and expire at the end of the year, this could potentially leave an awkward gap where landlords can revert back to initial, less effective regulations.
For tenants then, this is a test of patience. But they can now look forward to Spring next year, which shall bring the safety and protection that Wales was promised six years ago.