The Government is due to launch a consultation today into making three-year tenancies the mandatory minimum term.
The move has been described by one landlords’ body as a political about-turn. It said that a consultation had only ever been flagged up into how longer tenancies could be encouraged, and accused the Government of vote-seeking.
There is also a question mark over lenders, the large majority of whom would have to change their rules.
Housing secretary James Brokenshire said: “It is deeply unfair when renters are forced to uproot their lives or find new schools for their children at short notice due to the terms of their rental contract.
“Being able to call your rental property your home is vital to putting down roots and building stronger communities.”
Shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “This latest promise is meaningless if landlords can still force tenants out by hiking up the rent.”
He said Labour plans included controls on rents, an end to so-called no-fault evictions and protection against sub-standard properties.
The consultation, leaked widely in the media at the weekend, is said to propose that tenants will have to be offered a minimum three-year tenancy agreement but that they could leave before the end of that term.
The consultation, which is due to run until August 26, will look at whether there should be some exemptions to the three-year rule, for example where there are student tenants.
The consultation on mandatory three-year tenancies has come under fire from the National Landlords Association.
CEO Richard Lambert said it marked an unwelcome change of tone. He said: “In his speech to the Conservative Party conference last October, Sajid Javid [then minister responsible for housing] announced plans for a consultation on how to encourage longer tenancies. That’s been the tone of the discussion ever since – consultation and encouragement.
“Frankly, right now, I feel we’ve been misled.
“This is supposed to be about meeting the needs of the consumer. NLA research with tenants finds consistently that around 40% of tenants want longer tenancies, but 40% do not. More than 50% consistently say that they are happy with the tenancy length they were offered, and 20% tell us that when they asked for a longer tenancy, they got it.
“We would accept that the flexibility of the current Assured Shorthold Tenancy isn’t used as effectively as it could be, and that we should be looking to find ways to ensure that tenants are offered the kind of tenancies they need at the time they need them.
“That means thinking about how to modernise a model devised 30 years ago, to take account of the changes in the people who are renting and the way they live their lives. How will that be achieved by moving to a more rigid system, more reminiscent of the regulated model the current system replaced?
“It’s like urging someone to update their 1980s brick-style mobile phone, but instead of giving them a smartphone, offering them a Bakelite dial phone plugged into the wall.
“This is a policy which the Conservatives derided when it was put forward by their opponents in the past two General Election campaigns.
“It’s hard not to see this as more of a political move aimed at the renter vote than a genuine effort to improve how the rented market works for all those involved.”