14 Oct 2014
Since the government announced their support for the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, it has occasionally been wrongly criticised for doing things it doesn’t actually do.
This is understandable – the draft bill hasn’t been released yet, and a lot of people care passionately about private renting. In view of this, I wanted to take this opportunity to address some of its criticisms.
There is a reason this bill has such broad support– it is sensible and credible. It will make a huge impact on the lives of renters, without placing additional burdens on law abiding landlords.
What does the Tenancies (Reform) Bill do?
The bill prevents landlords from evicting their tenant(s) in response to a local authority intervention about the condition of their property. They will be unable to serve a no-fault ‘section 21’ eviction notice for 6 months following the issue of a local authority improvement or hazard awareness notice.
Landlords who have not protected their tenants’ deposit or have not licensed their property when they are required to do so are already prevented from serving these eviction notices. This bill is simply bringing landlords’ other legal requirements into scope.
Will renters be able to use spurious complaints to frustrate their landlords?
No – the bill protects landlords from spurious complaints.
- Landlords will be prevented from serving a section 21 eviction notice if their local authority has issued an improvement or hazard awareness notice. These notices are only served if a landlord is in breach of their legal duty to rent out a property that is safe and free from health hazards.
- The bill cannot be used as a last minute delay to eviction. If challenging an eviction notice, the tenant will have to prove that they made a complaint about conditions before the notice was issued. They will lose their ability to challenge the eviction notice, if they do not do so within the two month notice period.
- The bill specifically prohibits renters from raising issues that are their own responsibility. Environmental Health Officers are well trained in assessing whether a defect is longstanding and genuine or exaggerated and manufactured.
The bill does not add a discretionary element to section 21 possession cases. Renters will not be able to use spurious complaints to slow down court proceedings. If an improvement or hazard awareness notice is served, the eviction notice is invalidated. If it is not, then the landlord is free to proceed.
Will the bill trap tenants in their home?
- This won’t stop renters from moving home – they’ll still be able to hand in their notice with the existing degree of flexibility. If they want to leave the property rather than remain there while the landlord repairs faults and improves conditions that remains their right.
- If repairs are so significant that a tenant cannot be expected to continue living in the property, it is likely that an Environmental Health Officer will serve a ‘prohibition order’. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) – what local authorities use to assess private rented properties – advises Environmental Health Officers to serve a prohibition order where remedial work cannot be carried with the tenant in residence.
- In this situation the local authority must offer temporary or permanent alternative accommodation to the renter.
Will this place an extra burden on local authorities?
The bill will actually help councils carry out their core work – this is why local government is so supportive of it.
- Councils across the country are working hard to improve their local private rented sector. However, budget constraints mean that their response to poor conditions is usually reliant on complaints from renters.
- Despite high levels of poor conditions, the numbers of renters reporting problems remains relatively low. The main barrier to renters reporting is the existing lack of protection from revenge eviction.
- Empowering renters to report poor conditions will help local authorities tackle poor conditions. Often under-resourced, a greater number complaints would allowed them to more strategically target rogue landlords.
- Protection from revenge eviction will also help local authorities prosecute rogue landlords. Renters’ testimonies are crucial in ensuring a successful prosecution. Yet renters often refuse to give evidence in support of a prosecution for fear of eviction. They may also have already been evicted in retaliation before the case is brought.
Will this slow down the courts?
No, the bill includes measures that will ease the burden on the courts.
- Landlords, tenants, and solicitors frequently report that private rented sector possession cases can be extremely protracted. This is often down to mistakes in the eviction notice.
- A government working group has been looking at ways to stop this from happening. This group identified that the introduction of a prescribed form for section 21 eviction notices (so that a precise format has to be used before the notice is valid) could significantly improve the current system. A prescribed form would require certain basic information to be given to the tenant and minimise opportunity for error.
Furthermore – as outlined above – tenants will not be able to use spurious complaints to frustrate the eviction process. This bill does not add a discretionary element to section 21 cases.
The vast majority of landlords won’t be effected by the bill. Landlords who ensure that their properties comply with health and safety standards will still be entitled to issue a section 21 notice with the same degree of freedom that currently exists.
This bill will only inhibit rogue landlords: only those landlords that flout their existing legal responsibilities will be affected. Law abiding landlords should only be affected positively – the bill will give tenants the confidence to report repairs, and stop them from becoming a major issue.