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Time for reform: how our neighbours guarantee stability for renters

By: John Bibby
Published: October 2016

Time for reform: how our neighbours guarantee stability for renters - Shelter England

Over the last decade, private renting in England has changed beyond recognition. At one time seen as a stopgap for students and transient labour, today the private rented sector is home to millions of working people on low to middle incomes, older people and families raising children.

The families with children and older people who rent today value long term stability and want a place they can put down roots. They can’t afford to lock themselves into an agreement it would be expensive to escape if their circumstances change, but they need real certainty in order to plan for the long term. The market has failed to provide this long term, stable renting. Even with determined government action to nudge landlords towards offering longer contracts, the overwhelming majority of tenants are on short term six or twelve month contracts and only able to plan up to a year ahead. As a result, many families worry that they are going to lose their current home – 43% of renting families with children say this applies to them.

To correct this failure at the heart of England’s current renting market, we can earn from other rental markets that have managed to thrive and give renters the security they need. This study reviews four aspects of tenancy law in 32 European countries to understand the way they make renting stable for the families that live in rented homes. The research shows that government intervention is used to correct the free market’s natural failure to provide secure renting in in all of the biggest and most mature private rented markets in our neighbouring countries. They do this by giving more security to private tenants as a legal minimum.

This not only applies to tenants living in Germany, the Netherlands or Sweden, but also in less affluent economies like Poland, Slovakia and Greece. More than 80 million renters across the countries studied rent in markets where more than a year’s minimum security from eviction without grounds is the legal norm. This compares to only 7 million outside the UK that, like us, get less than a year as a minimum. This demonstrates legal change is possible. Now we need to see it happen in England.