Dr Rosalind Beck is a doctor of Criminology and a Conservative Party member in South Wales.
The Channel 5 series ‘Nightmare Tenants; Slum Landlords’ shows the devastation nightmare tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) cause to landlords, housemates and neighbours across the country. A wide variety of cases is presented each week.
In a recent episode, a tenant went on the rampage in a rented flat causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage. The programme shows other tenants hurling abuse at neighbours, wrecking properties with cannabis factories and building up thousands in arrears. Those who trusted the tenants with their property are often left in tears, with their finances in tatters, including this week the parents of an autistic child.
On the other hand, the programme-makers seem to have stalled in their quest to find examples of ‘slum landlords,’ and have included none in recent episodes.
Clearly, there are far more rogue tenants than there are rogue landlords. However, one would imagine the inverse to be true, judging by the Government’s determination to go ahead this week with the scrapping of Section 21 notices; something that will play right into the hands of the type of tenants seen in the programme.
For the uninitiated, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, is the notice for what is widely portrayed as a ‘no-fault eviction.’ The phrase implies that the tenant has done nothing wrong, whilst the truth is that although landlords are unable procedurally to give a reason, in 84 per cent of cases possession is sought for non-payment of rent and in 56 per cent of cases, damage to property is a factor.
In addition, although it is seen as a ‘two month’ notice, in reality it often takes at least six months. A typical timeline is:
- Landlord often waits until the tenant has got into at least two months arrears.
- Landlord gives tenant two months’ notice.
- Tenant doesn’t leave at the end of the notice period.
- Landlord applies to the courts and waits another month or two to get a date.
- The judge awards 14-28 days extra time in the property.
- Often the tenant remains.
- Bailiffs are instructed and depending on workload, another delay of a month or more ensues.
- Tenant is evicted by a bailiff.
Invariably, during this process the tenant is not paying rent and often damages the house.
The idea that Section 21 is an easy option for landlords to quickly gain possession on a blameless tenant is therefore pure fantasy.
However, whereas Section 21 typically takes more than six months, the only alternative, ‘Section 8’ can take closer to a year, as spurious defences and counter-claims are allowed (tenants have been known to damage the house and then allege disrepair), which lead to adjournments.
Very worryingly, in addition to scrapping Section 21, another suggestion given to Government has been to ‘port’ over the conditions under which a Section 21 can be served, to an amended Section 8. The Welsh Assembly is also actively considering this. This could mean, for example, that the fact there was no proof a tenant had received a copy of a certificate (even if they had) could give a non-paying tenant a lifetime tenancy in a property owned by someone else who is paying the mortgage and all other costs. This is bizarre, absurd and contrary to all natural justice; and it would not surprise me at all if it slipped through as an ‘unintended consequence.’
This is not only relevant for landlords. A reason why people in general should be concerned about this, is that Section 21 was the key element in the Housing Act which gave landlords and lenders confidence they could get a property back when they needed to. Abolishing it will take tenancy law back to the last century, when the absence of adequate means of regaining possession caused the PRS to shrink from comprising 90 per cent of all housing to just nine per cent. Housing quality was also poor.
The English Housing Survey, just out, has found that these days 83 per cent of private tenants are satisfied or very satisfied with their housing; compared to 80 per cent in the social sector. Why would the Government interfere with the excellent progress that has been made in housing quantity and quality, by taking this regressive step to shrink the PRS?
An estimated 150,000 more households will be needed in the coming year. Who will provide the homes for them? Not private landlords.
Where is the estimation of the effect this will have on homelessness levels?
The risk of facing one of the nightmare scenarios described above, with the process of getting rogue tenants out having been made much more difficult or even impossible, will especially deter those with only one rental property – around half of the country’s two million landlords. I have advised my brother, now that he has retired, to leave empty the extra property he purchased when he moved for work. As I told him, when faced with potentially losing control over his asset, it is not worth the extra income of a few hundred pounds a month.
Is this what the Government wants? Empty houses?
Even in terms of gaining votes, the Government is following a reckless agenda. The National Landlords Association found that 85 per cent of landlords – and their families – will vote against parties proposing to remove Section 21. This could be a huge factor in marginal constituencies.
In light of all this, we can only hope that Boris Johnson not only retains Section 21 – to scrap was an ill-considered attempt by Theresa May to establish a legacy – but in fact, improves on it so that landlords can get swifter justice.
One should not forget that although the private and social housing sectors together house nearly half of the population, it is private landlords who now provide the essential safety net for the lowest-income tenants and who house 10 out of 11 homeless people.
If the hostile environment for landlords persists, they won’t for much longer.