Revenge evictions: what can be done?

Rogue landlords are too often able to evict tenants without good reason, Sarah Teather MP believes. She explores the evidence behind her Private Members’ Bill, which aims to reform the system.

Picture credit: Helen Taylor

We are, on any measure, in the middle of a housing crisis. As house prices increase, many are finding it difficult to make that first step onto the property ladder.

One consequence of this is the rise of the rogue landlord. Most landlords are good: they care about their properties and have a good working relationship with their tenants. Nonetheless, it is a seller’s market, particularly in London.
The strength of demand supports rogue landlords.

One of the most concerning results of this is the rise of retaliatory or ‘revenge’ evictions. Landlords can, under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, evict tenants without providing a reason.

This power is often used if a landlord decides to sell a property, or if he decides to move into it himself.

Some landlords, however, will evict their tenants if they complain about the conditions in the property, before re-letting it to others. Unsanitary and unsafe conditions – such as exposed electrical wiring, severe damp or cold, or serious infestations – are ignored, and those who complain about them left homeless.

Most landlords will not engage in retaliatory eviction. They want their tenants to report problems to them. Many find problems in their property only when their tenants leave at the end of a tenancy.

But all too often, tenants put up with things like dangerous electrical fittings and mould because they are too scared to complain. If their child is in a local school, or they live near to friends and family, it’s understandable that they would not want to risk losing their homes.

Evidence

As an MP for an inner London constituency, I regularly see people in my office who need help with their housing situation, so I have helped a number of constituents facing retaliatory eviction.

The housing charity Shelter have been campaigning on the issue for a number of years. It has carried out extensive research to identify the extent of the problem.

A survey carried out for Shelter by Yougov found two per cent of renters had been evicted or served with an eviction notice in the last year after complaining to their landlord or local authority about a problem that wasn’t their responsibility. That is just over 213,000 people across England.

Shelter’s figures also showed some groups were particularly badly affected: households in receipt of Housing Benefit (five per cent); London renters (seven per cent); black and minority ethnic renters (10 per cent) and families renting in London (14 per cent.)

More difficult to measure is the number of tenants who fear eviction and who decide not to ask their landlord to repair a problem, but one Shelter survey found that 11 per cent of renters in London had been in this position in the last year.

Shelter’s evidence paints a clear picture. The vast majority of landlords are good and do not engage in retaliatory eviction. However, the size of the private rented sector means that a large number of tenants are affected. Rogue landlords also seem to target the vulnerable, under-represented and least well-off.

Case studies

A constituent recently visited my office for help after his landlord served him with an eviction notice. His property suffered from severe cold and a cockroach infestation. He received Housing Benefit but rented privately. The Council inspected the property and served notice on the landlord. Instead of fixing the problems, the landlord decided to evict my constituent.

The pattern was repeated in Margo’s case. Margo contacted Shelter for help after she had problems with the electrics in her family’s flat. She had noticed problems when they moved in, but having struggled to find a home felt she should not complain.

A leak had soaked sockets, some of which were hanging out of the wall, and wires overlapped with the plumbing. There was a constant smell of burning.
In the end, it became so dangerous she contacted the council. When they contacted the landlord about the problem, Margo was issued with a Section 21 eviction notice. Her family had to leave their home after two and a half years living there. She was forced to leave her community and friends and to take her children out of the local school.

A new Bill

My Private Members’ Bill would suspend Section 21 eviction notices for six months following a local authority-issued statutory notice demanding improvements, or following a written complaint from a tenant about a serious hazard or dangerous condition in a property.

This would benefit tenants and good landlords, only restricting the rights of those engaged in bad practice. Tenants would feel able to contact their landlord about a problem without fearing eviction.

Good landlords would be completely unaffected, and those wanting to sell or move into their property will still be able to do so – even if their tenants had made a complaint. Spurious complaints would not count – it would only apply if a local authority inspected the property and agreed that there was a serious problem.

I believe this would be a positive change for landlords, and one that many I have spoken to would welcome. Most landlords want to know when there is a problem in their property, and want their tenants to report any issues to them. My Bill would give their tenants the confidence to do so.

Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill 2014 will have its Second Reading on November 28.

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