Thank you to all our supporters who have been sending emails through our ‘Email Your AM’ web page, kindly created by Generation Rent for our campaign.

We’ve had some replies and would really appreciate if you can send any other responses you receive to letdowninwales@gmail.com. We’d, of course, remove your name and any other personalised comments. We’re simply gathering them where we can so we can contrast and compare different party positions.

So far, we’ve got emails from an AM each in Labour, a Conservative and a Lib Dem. If we can get Plaid next, we’ll have a full set! Here they are below:

Andrew RT Davies AM, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives 

Thank you for your e-mail about the Renting Homes Bill.

I share your concerns about enforcement, which reinforces the needs for tenants to be able to raise problems without the fear of retribution. The Communities, Culture and Local Government Committee also felt the same way, and therefore made Recommendation 36 to `the Bill.

However, this was rejected by Communities and Tackling Poverty Minister Lesley Griffiths, who stated that, “Whilst such an amendment may initially have some attraction, the Residential Property Tribunal for Wales does not have the necessary capacity to deal with such disputes. Building in such capacity would be costly and would need to be fully considered and consulted upon.”

My Welsh Conservative colleague Mark Isherwood AM has therefore put down an amendment 189 (below).

Page 101, after line 13, insert a new section—

‘[ ] Advice and alternative dispute resolution

(1) A contract-holder may refer any matter within subsection (2) to a body appointed in accordance with subsection (3).

(2) The matters are—

(a) the amount of rent payable under the contract, and

(b) the state of repair or fitness for human habitation of the dwelling.

(3) The body must be appointed by the Welsh Ministers by regulations.

(4) The body will have power to do any of the following—

(a) advise the contract-holder;

(b) seek to resolve matters between the contract-holder and the landlord without

recourse to legal proceedings;

(c) order the landlord to comply with its obligations in sections 91 and 92 of this Act.

(5) An order under subsection (4)(c) is enforceable as if it were an order of the court.

(6) Nothing in subsection (4)(a) or (b) affects the right of a contract-holder to issue proceedings in the court against the landlord.

I support this amendment and I hope that it will be accepted, since I believe it will go some way to dealing with the concerns raised.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact me about this issue, and I hope that this response is helpful. If I can be of further assistance, please feel free to get in touch.

 

Rebecca Evans AM, Labour, Deputy Minister for Farming & Food

Thank you for writing to me regarding the important issues covered by the Renting Homes Bill.

Overall I believe that both landlords and tenants will benefit from the bill’s simplification of current legislation which will make the rights and obligations of both clearer. This bill should also be read alongside the Housing (Wales) Act passed last year which introduced a compulsory registration scheme for landlords and agents.

I share your concerns regarding poor conditions and retaliatory eviction and welcome the Welsh Government’s decision to legislate on this issue. Under the Bill, where a landlord makes a possession claim to the court, the court can refuse to make a possession order if it satisfied the landlord issued the claim to avoid the landlord’s responsibilities relating to fitness for human habitation and repair.

I also welcome the bill’s inclusion of fitness for human habitation standards. The requirement will operate in a similar way to the current landlord repairing obligations. However, as a result of the new protection against retaliatory eviction, if the landlord does not address a problem, the tenant will be able to report the problem to the Local Authority without fear of eviction.

Since the fitness for human habitation requirement is a statutory contractual requirement under the Bill, it would also be open to the tenant to seek enforcement of the landlord’s obligations by making a claim to the courts. For serious problems, legal aid is available to assist such a claim. This will operate in a similar way to current claims for dis-repair made by tenants through the courts.

With regard to the specific “calls” you mention in your letter:

  • An expansion of the Residential Property Tribunal: it would be difficult to set up a new mediation scheme through the current Bill, since this would require substantial additional consultation. The Residential Property Tribunal for Wales deals with a very small number of cases at present and could not take on this additional work without significant building of capacity. Consultation would also need to include the representation available to tenants in a mediation process
  • A ban on letting agent fees in Wales: while the Welsh Government has not accepted this proposal, I welcome the fact that the Bill will, for the first time, require all landlords to provide a written contract to their tenants, and the landlord or agent will not be allowed to charge a fee for this.
  • Rent control: only a very small number of cases, fewer than 10 a year, are currently heard by Rent Assessment Committees of the Residential Property Tribunal for Wales. In around half of these, the Committees have either confirmed the rent being proposed by the landlord or set a higher rent. Also, at present, where a tenancy agreement includes a mechanism for increasing the rent it would be outside the scope of the Committee to consider an appeal. Since the contracts under the Bill include such a mechanism, they would not be eligible for consideration by a Committee. Furthermore, research by the Office of National Statistics shows rents in Wales increased by only 0.8% in the year to June 2015, a much lower rate than the 2.1% in Scotland and 2.5% in England.
  • Quality standards: the Minister has brought forward an amendment to broaden the regulation-making power in relation to fitness to human habitation to ensure it covers these matters of quality and safety. The Minister also wrote to the Committee setting out her ambition to raise the quality of rented housing, particularly in the private rented sector.

In addition the following are also covered:

  • Keeping pets and redecorating: under the Bill, where a contract requires the consent of the landlord for something such as keeping a pet or redecorating, the landlord cannot unreasonably refuse consent.
  • Six month moratorium: having studied all the evidence, the Minister has now decided that the risks of removing the moratorium may outweigh the benefits and has therefore committed to bring forward amendments to re-instate the six-month moratorium within the Bill.

With regard to the issue of a tenants’ union, Welsh Labour is currently consulting on its manifesto for the 2016 election and I will ensure that your views on this are fed into the consultation. If you have any other thoughts for the next Assembly, I would be glad to hear these. Getting Housing policy right is a priority for me and the party and fresh ideas are always welcome.

Although I cannot agree with every point you make, I hope you will agree that the Welsh Government’s work to make contracts clearer, improve standards in private rented properties, ban retaliatory evictions and require the registration of landlords and agents are definitely steps in the right direction.

 

Eluned Parrott AM, Welsh Liberal Democrat AM for South Wales Central 

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the Renting Homes (Wales) Bill.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats very much support the aims and objectives that you set out for the private rented sector. We want to see the Renting Homes Act be used by the Welsh Government to drive up standards in privately rented homes and to improve security for tenants.

We also believe that where new obligations are imposed on local councils that they are given the resources to implement them effectively, as well as empowering tenants by giving them the information and the tools to take on rogue landlords by themselves if necessary.

With regards to the specific points you mention, our views are outlined below:

  1. Secure tenancies for all – the Welsh Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to restore the sixth month moratorium and have made it clear that if the removal of this moratorium remains in the bill then we will vote against it at its final stage.
  2. Protect tenants from disproportionate rent rises – we have introduced a series of amendments to strengthen the Residential Property Tribunal, so as to enable it to review rents in the private rented sector and act as a housing court dealing with challenges to rent increases, adjudication of disputes, fitness for human habitation, succession rights, failure to supply contract and mediation.  In our view this is preferable to the reliance in the bill on the courts to do this work especially in the light of cuts to legal aid and we believe that it will enable tenants to take up grievances and seek mediation much more easily.
  3. Give tenants the right to keep pets and decorate however they choose, returning accommodation to its previous state when they go – this is not a matter for legislation and clearly depends on the type and nature of the property.  We would leave this as a matter for the discretion of the landlord.
  4. Mandatory safety testing – require landlords to carry out five-yearly electrical safety testing and provide carbon monoxide alarms – the Welsh Liberal Democrats have introduced an amendment to try and raise the standard of property in the private rented sector. Specifically, if passed this amendment would put a duty on landlords to keep the dwelling wind and water tight, keep any fixtures, fittings and appliances in the dwelling which are provided by the landlord in a reasonable state of repair and in proper working order, ensure that any furnishings in the dwelling which are provided by the landlord are capable of being used safely for the purpose for which they are designed, ensure the dwelling has satisfactory provision for detecting fires and for giving warning in the event of fire or suspected fire, ensure the dwelling has satisfactory provision for giving warning if carbon monoxide is present in a concentration that is hazardous to health, and ensure that every fixed electrical installation in the dwelling is inspected and tested at intervals not exceeding two years by a person qualified to undertake such inspection.
  5. An expansion of the Residential Property Tribunal to encourage and promote mediation between landlords and tenants, rather than forcing people into the courts – see point 2 above.
  6. A ban on letting agent fees in Wales – fees are business costs, and they ought to be absorbed by the business or the landlord; namely those profiting from the business.  This is outside of the scope of the bill but we will be taking a motion to our Welsh Liberal Democrat conference in November, which if passed will commit us to abolishing letting agents fees and to expanding the remit of the Welsh Tenants Federation to include representation for private rented sector tenants with appropriate funding.  The text of the motion can be found here: http://www.welshlibdems.wales/autumn_conference_papers_2015
  7. Boost and protect environmental health budgets by providing additional ring-fenced funding – we are opposed in principle to ring-fencing budgets to local councils but we would expect the Welsh Government to ensure that councils have sufficient resources to meet any new statutory functions either through a grant, increased funding or by gaining revenue from fees on licensing etc.
  8. Support for a Tenants’ Union – see point 6 above.

I hope this helps to clarify our position on these issues and if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.