During her time working for the Crosby, Formby and District Citizens Advice Bureau, Debbie wrote the seminal report, ‘The Tenant’s Dilemma’, on the fear and incidence of retaliatory eviction. Based on the findings from surveys with frontline housing advisors, the report advocated stronger legal protections for renters who complain about poor conditions in their home. Debbie was subsequently awarded the Consumer Action Award by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation for her campaigning on this issue.
Renting in the private sector? Feel secure?
Seven years ago, I was working at a Citizens Advice Bureau advising a client who was a tenant in private accommodation about how she could get urgent health and safety repairs carried out in her home. Everything was fine as I reeled off all her options, including making a formal complaint to the environmental health team at the council who can require an unwilling landlord to do what they are legally bound in law to do. Now here is the tricky bit that many tenants don’t realise. Below the advice text on the information system is a large red triangle with the message ‘be careful when advising tenants to access their statutory rights for repair as they may be evicted and there is no legal protection.’
I laughed out loud as it was so ridiculous, surely it was a mistake? No, sadly it wasn’t and still hasn’t changed to this day.
There are tenants who don’t understand just how vulnerable they are. They only realise when they have a dispute with the landlord about repairs and seek advice. Then there are the tenants who first realise when they are served an eviction notice giving them two month notice to leave. When we surveyed CAB advisors asking them if tenants are put off using help because of fears of jeopardising their tenancy, almost half said that this was often the case.
There are however, lots more people who never seek advice or complain about poor conditions in the first place, for fear that their landlord will evict them in retaliation.
Thankfully, most landlords wouldn’t dream of using this legal loop-hole to shirk their responsibilities. However, more vulnerable tenants are more likely to be caught in this catch twenty two situation and often suffer in silence.
In 2007 I wrote the report ‘The Tenant’s Dilemma’ as I wanted to share my findings on this issue and urge the government to act. I looked overseas for a possible solution. In Europe tenants have much more superior protection and security. I believe this is the reason a large percentage of people choose to live in the private rented sector, rather than getting themselves in debt by accessing the housing market, but I will save that argument for another time. America, New Zealand and Australia seem to have the answer, and have had laws protecting renters from retaliatory eviction for almost 50 years.
So why don’t renters here have the same protections? I don’t have an answer to that as I am as baffled as the next person. The good news is that the government is now listening and we collectively have an opportunity to set something in stone that will protect tenants for generations to come.
On the 28th November, the Tenancies (Reform) Bill will have its Second Reading in the House of Commons and we need as many MPs to attend as possible as it will kick start a process that will lead to legislation to end retaliatory evictions.
Take action today – email your MP and ask them to vote for the Tenancies (Reform) Bill on 28th November.