Guest blog: Dave Hickling, Chair of the Association of Tenancies Relations Officers.
Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) were introduced in order to breathe life into the private rented housing market. These tenancies with no fixed period were designed to encourage short term letting at a time when the risks of letting and the difficulties of recovering possession were discouraging would-be landlords.
No one can deny that the sector is now pretty healthy and is continuing to go from strength to strength, often at the expense of owner occupation and more secure, public sector letting.
Regardless of whether it might be time to turn down some of the fuel to the private rented market’s expansion, one of the negative consequences of removing long term security of tenure for private tenants has been its impact on tenants’ willingness to report repairs.
Housing advisers and local authority officers dealing with private rented homes see examples of retaliatory (or revenge) evictions on a regular basis. These evictions are not only unfair and devastating to those affected, they also present a significant impediment to local authorities’ attempts to improve physical standards. The fear of eviction deters tenants from complaining.
Any responsible housing adviser is duty bound to make private tenants aware that a possible consequence of raising a complaint is that the landlord will issue a section 21 notice. Many private tenants are well aware that they can very easily be evicted – more easily than in most European countries and American states.
In a recent case I was involved in, after a telephone discussion with another council officer about the merits or reporting a repair to his local authority, a private tenant concluded that: our rights are very limited, and our landlord can basically do as he pleases –we can be evicted if we complain that our landlord isn’t carrying out repairs he should be. We never heard from the tenant again or received details of his complaint.
There is a ‘rationale’ behind retaliatory eviction for the irresponsible landlord, especially when alternative tenants are easy to come by. Tenants differ hugely both in the strength and resolve required to make a complaint, and in terms of their alternative housing options.
The legality of retaliatory eviction therefore encourages unscrupulous landlords to seek out the most vulnerable. When evicting a ‘troublesome’ tenant, these landlords may be confident of finding a more ‘compliant’ tenant, who is far less likely to raise issues about standards of management.
Also, where a hard-pressed Local Authority is dealing with a complaint it is less likely that any action will be followed through once the complainant leaves and the landlord’s future intentions for the property are unclear.
Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill will make tenants feel more protected, and much more confident in reporting problems to us.
It will also encourage more responsible behaviour from landlords. They will know that their powers to evict will be severely curtailed if they don’t keep their properties in good repair- or they don’t make the necessary safety checks. If enacted, we are hopeful that this Bill will make less diligent landlords more careful about doing repairs and safety checks in the first place.
Case Study 1
In March 2014, Wendy complains to her Council’s Private Housing Team about various disrepair problems in her private tenancy. A Council Officer visits and finds amongst other things, damp and mould, leaking pipes and bath, dangerous wiring, no gas safety certificate, faulty fire detectors external doors in disrepair and the shower not working properly. The Officer writes to the landlord and 2 days later the landlord rings Wendy and angrily tells her she has to go, later following this up with a section 21 Notice. There were no issues with the rent account or other allegations of wrong doing by the tenant.
Case Study 2
In July 2014 Haley complains to her Council’s Private Housing Team because she has serious concern for her family about damp, mould and cold in her private rented tenancy. A Council Officer visits and contacts the landlord, raising concerns about serious damp and mould in the living and bedrooms, lack of insulation, leaking roof and gutters and a lack of mechanical fans in the bathroom and kitchen. The landlord is unresponsive and so over the next month, the Council Officer repeatedly tries to contact the landlord and writes again on 13 August. On 18 August, the tenant receives a section 21 notice with no explanation and having received no contact regarding any problems with the tenancy.