Landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants at short notice without giving a reason, under reforms proposed by the government on Monday.
James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, said he would consult on new legislation to abolish “no-fault” evictions, which enable landlords to throw out their tenants with eight weeks’ notice without explaining why.
Housing campaign groups such as Generation Rent and Shelter had called for the change to enable greater security for the 4.5m UK households in privately rented homes.
Landlords can currently issue so-called section 21 orders to evict their tenants within eight weeks once a fixed-term tenancy has ended. Abolishing them will effectively create open-ended tenancies, the government said. The consultation will take place before the summer.
Theresa May, the prime minister, said: “This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the change would be “an outstanding victory for England’s 11 million private renters”.
“Getting this new legislation through parliament is critical to people being able to stay in their rented home as long as they need, so we look forward to the government passing this law as quickly as possible,” she added.
Tenant numbers have been increasing with the rise in house prices and the low level of construction of social housing. About one in four families now rent, along with hundreds of thousands of older people, according to Shelter.
“We frequently hear from people with contracts shorter than your average gym membership, who live in constant fear of being thrown out at the drop of a hat,” Ms Neate said.
Tenants fear in particular that they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with the property, the government said.
The end of a private tenancy is the most common trigger for people becoming homeless in England, according to government figures.
Under the proposals, landlords will have to give one of a specified list of reasons if they ask a tenant to leave. These include a failure to pay the rent or a breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement.
Ministers will also look to amend the process for so-called “section 8” evictions — where a specific reason is given — so that property owners can take back a home if they want to sell it or move into it. The proposals also include speeding up the court process for evicting tenants who fall into rent arrears or damage a property.
Mr Brokenshire said this would ensure that “responsible landlords can get their property back where they have proper reason to do so”.
The National Landlords Association, which represents private residential landlords, criticised the proposals.
“Landlords currently have little choice but to use Section 21,” said Richard Lambert, NLA chief executive. “They have no confidence in the ability or the capacity of the courts to deal with possession claims quickly and surely, regardless of the strength of the landlord’s case.
Mr Brokenshire said the proposed reforms would be “the biggest change to the private rental sector in a generation”.
Separately, a bill abolishing letting fees charged to tenants comes into effect from June.