James Hockney is the Managing Director of Skyline Comms. He has twice been a Parliamentary Candidate in Barnsley.
It is estimated that around 141,000 tenants in England have been subject to revenge evictions in the last three years. These retaliatory evictions occur when tenants complain about the condition of their property due to unscrupulous landlords. Research has shown there is a 46 per cent chance of a Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction being served within six months of a tenant complaining.
On average, tenants will stay in a rented home for nearly four years. However over eight in ten rental contracts are on ‘assured shorthold tenancies’, which have a minimum fixed term of six or 12 months.
The charity, Shelter, have stated that the main reason for homelessness is the loss of a tenancy.
In 2015, the Government introduced the 2015 Deregulation Act, aimed at preventing the minority of unscrupulous landlords in the rental sector from misusing the Section 21 powers to evict tenants that complain.
To date these changes have been wholly ineffective. The recent Citizens Advice survey of council environmental health officers found that 90 per cent saw no reduction in revenge evictions. Put simply, the regulations were too complicated and little known. I say this as someone who has studied postgraduate housing law and was unaware of the regulations until researching this article. The Housing Law Practitioners Association has stated that the law is too complicated.
For a tenant to be protected by the Courts they must:
- Have complained to the landlord or letting agent in writing prior to receiving a Section 21 notice.
- Then complain to the local council because the landlord didn’t take steps to fix the problem.
- With the Council sending the landlord a notice telling them to make improvements or saying it will do emergency work.
This sets a high-bar for the tenant to meet and presents an extended timeline – which a rogue landlord can utilise to issue a Section 21 notice before the tenant has time to transact all three of the required measures.
Local councils do have the power to render a Section 21 notice invalid; if the landlord serves a notice after stage 1 – but only if the tenant specifically contacts the council to complain that a revenge eviction is taking place.
Tenants also face a postcode lottery due to varying council budgets; meaning some local authorities have the resources to be more proactive than others.
Sadly, it is all too often that it is vulnerable people who are at the most risk from revenge evictions – like those who don’t have the confidence or resources needed to fight a rogue landlord and/or tenants who do not possess strong reading or writing skills.
It is important not to tar all landlords with the same brush – a minority of landlords are using Section 21 notices in a retaliatory manner. But the numbers of tenants being affected by rogue landlords (141,000 in the last three years) needs action and the well-intentioned legislative changes in 2015 has proved to be unworkable in the majority of instances. With any changes, it is always a careful balancing act (I recognise this as someone who has rented and been a landlord) – one that deals with rogue landlords – but is not so broad and onerous to affect the majority of decent landlords in the rental sector.
My recommendations are:
- Provide tenants with a longer security of tenure – a minimum of two years. With the right for tenants to end the tenancy early, with notice – but also for the landlord if they need to sell the property.
- Protect the right of the landlord to evict in legitimate circumstances, for example non-payment of rent.
- Government to implement an advice website and leaflets for tenants to ‘know your rights’. Duty for landlord/letting agent to signpost new and existing tenants to this resource.
- Rent increases to be capped in line with inflation for one year, if the local authority upholds a complaint about the condition of a property. Which would prevent a landlord hiking rents to force out a tenant.
- Ring fenced central government grant for local authorities to apply who lack environmental health officer resource to protect tenants from rogue landlords.