Tenant Fees Bill - Committee (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:22 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 4:22 pm, 20th November 2018

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 29 and 30 and in support of Amendment 28, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I thank the Minister for all the meetings with him and his officials and for the meeting today on guidance. I look forward to continuing to meet to make sure that we do what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, described and make sure that the Bill is beautifully polished before it receives Royal Assent.

Amendment 27 would cap the change of sharer charge to £50 and Amendment 29 would avoid exorbitant charges to end a tenancy. Amendment 30 would avoid what I hope is an unintended consequence, which is that paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 allows landlords to insist on all the rent for the remainder of the fixed term. It aims to make the provision a little more tenant friendly by limiting the tenant’s liability for the rent to the point at which the property is relet.

Regarding a change of tenant, if a sharer moves out, it is normally their and the remaining housemates’ responsibility to find a replacement. The alternatives are for the remaining housemates to pay rent on an empty bedroom or for them all to move out, with the associated costs. Currently the fees associated with changing a tenant are comparable to those of starting a new tenancy. Indeed, Generation Rent recorded an average of £248 in its research. This reflects the limited options available to tenants rather than the actual costs involved. As the tenants tend to do all the marketing though sites such as Gumtree and SpareRoom, the landlord’s costs are limited to the referencing process. Even then, the existing tenants have an incentive to find a new housemate who will pass the referencing process and whom they can rely on to pay a regular rent.

If there is to be a fee, it should reflect the landlord’s or the agent’s reduced cost in that circumstance. The Bill as drafted says that the charge is capped at £50, but it still allows landlords to charge more than that—so it is not really a cap but more of a floor. The possibility remains that landlords would charge as much as they could. A true cap would not permit fees above a specified sum.

I turn to Amendments 29 and 30. People will always need to move unexpectedly in circumstances where their personal or professional life changes. The Government have recognised this through their proposed longer-tenancies model, which we welcome, giving tenants the flexibility to exit the tenancy without penalty before the fixed period ends. However, paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 allows landlords to insist on all the rent for the rest of the fixed term, which is unnecessary if they are able to relet the property, has the potential to create financial hardship for tenants and could even see some people trapped in difficult relationships. The amendments would limit the tenant’s liability for the rent until the point when the property was relet, which should take place within a reasonable timeframe. I very much appreciate that there is a little more clarity in terms of the draft guidance at the moment, but that is of course draft guidance and I am seeking to probe what can be in the Bill regarding this issue.

Regarding costs at the end of a tenancy, no one makes the decision to move lightly. To end your tenancy early would mean that you face significant changes in your personal or professional life. The Bill should therefore limit the cost of this where possible. As it currently stands, my understanding is that it would appear to make a tenant leaving a tenancy liable for the rent for the remainder of the fixed term, plus the costs of remarketing the property. A tenant moving out could pay all of this and the landlord could still get a new tenant within a month of the tenancy. The landlord therefore could possibly receive several months of double rent through sheer luck. To make it more of a level playing field and limit the departing tenant’s liability, the Bill should apply a reasonableness test. As soon as the property has a new tenant, the former tenant’s liability should end, and the landlord should have an obligation to deal reasonably with any request to leave. I beg to move.