Clause 9 - Duty to give statement of terms and other information

Renters (Reform) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 23 November 2023.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield 3:00, 23 November 2023

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 3—Duty of landlord and contractor to give statement of terms and other information.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The Government are committed to ensuring that tenants and landlords are aware of their rights and responsibilities. Government new clause 3 will replace clause 9 and insert a new duty requiring landlords to provide tenants with a written statement setting out certain terms of their tenancy. Having terms in a written agreement or statement can help to avoid disputes. If things go wrong, they can provide effective evidence to resolve disputes, and they can provide valuable evidence if the landlord needs to evict an irresponsible tenant. Details of what must be included in the written statement will be set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State, and may include such information as the tenancy start date, rent level and landlord’s address, as well as the basic rights and responsibilities of both parties.

We know that the vast majority of good landlords already put tenancy terms in writing, and we want to formalise that good practice. For those landlords, we intend that there will be little practical difference between this new duty and the tenancy agreement that they already provide. Landlords will need to specify when certain grounds may be used to evict the tenant. These are predominantly specialist grounds, such as where the property is used for a specific purpose or connected to the tenant’s employment.

New clause 3 will help to ensure that all tenants and landlords, as well as those working for the landlord, are aware of their rights and obligations. I commend it to the Committee in place of clause 9.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Clause 9 would insert proposed new section 16D into the 1988 Act. It places a duty on landlords to provide the tenant, as the Minister made clear, with a written statement of terms and information on or before the first day of a tenancy. Landlords must state in the written statement of terms where they may wish to make use of any of the prior notice grounds 1B, 2ZA, 2ZB, 4, 5 to 5G or 18. Given that prior notice is currently required for use of possession ground 1, but the Government propose to remove that requirement from the new ground 1, may I press the Minister again to explain precisely why the Government believe that that change is necessary?

I would like to make some brief comments about Government new clause 3 and put a number of questions to the Minister about it. These are complex questions, so I have no issue with the Minister writing to me at a later date rather than answering now. New clause 3 replaces clause 9, thereby applying the provisions of the clause to landlords’ contractors as well as landlords; carving out certain tenancies by implication; and modifying specific provisions for certain tenancies. Leaving aside quite how the Government got themselves in the situation where they are replacing entire clauses in Committee, I would be grateful if the Minister clarified why the Government have alighted on applying these provisions to “contractors”, given that the standard term, both in plain English and in statute, is “agent”?

A whole series of further questions arises from the new clause. What is the definition of a contractor? Does it have to be a written contract? What happens if the information is not provided? Did the Government consider whether a rent repayment order might be appropriate in the circumstances, or whether a court should be given the power to order that it be provided? What if the contractor excludes liability for providing the material in question, given that we know that that happens in other instances, for example with letting agents excluding liability to tell the landlord about any relevant licensing schemes? I would appreciate any insight that the Minister can offer today into any of those points. As I say, I am more than happy to accept a written response to my detailed questions, if necessary.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

On the hon. Gentleman’s question about prior notice, we are making it a requirement of the new mandatory written statement of terms that landlords must warn their tenants where they may wish to rely on a certain grounds at the outset of the tenancy. If the landlord fails to comply with the mandatory written statement of terms, the tenant can seek redress and local authorities may issue fines.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

But that does not apply to ground 1, does it? I am trying to understand the Government’s thinking on why they have removed the prior notice requirement on ground 1.

Photo of Jacob Young Jacob Young Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on that point and on the other questions that he raised.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 9 accordingly disagreed to.