Paul Samplina of Landlord Action comments on a recent report issued by Citizens Advice (CA) claiming that tenants who complain about conditions in their rental properties are likely to be served a section 21 eviction notice by their landlord.
Citizens Advice has released the report titled “Touch and Go”, claiming that tenants who complain about repair issues, such as damp, condensation and mould, have a 46 per cent chance of being issued with a section 21 eviction notice within six months. The charity claims this has affected about 141,000 tenants since 2015.
The CA report says that complaining “dramatically increases a renter’s chance of getting an eviction notice when compared to people who do not complain”.
My first concern with this report is how these figures have been sourced and therefore their accuracy? Many tenants do not know why a section 21 notice has been served; it is a no-fault eviction notice, therefore landlords are not obliged to give a reason.
It’s entirely possible that many of the tenants surveyed by CA did have a maintenance complaint, but it is not necessarily the reason the landlord was seeking possession. It would not be possible to have such detail without questioning every landlord in the tenant survey that has served a section 21.
At Landlord Action, we know from experience that the vast majority of section 21 notices are served for one reason and one reason only: rent arrears.
As a result of rent arrears, other breaches of the tenancy, or because tenants are staying in the property after they have requested re-housing by the council, and are awaiting a court order to enable this, landlords are obliged to seek possession.
The court systems are simply too slow to keep up with the number of possession cases using section 8 on the rent arrears ground. Therefore, many landlords choose to forgo the overdue rent and simply want their property back as soon as possible, even though the section 21 so called “accelerated possession procedure” can take 9 months.
My second concern is that the charity argues the figures show that recent laws (provisions for retaliatory eviction in the Deregulation Act 2015), designed to prevent families and other tenants in the private rented sector from being evicted after raising a complaint, have not worked. I would dispute this.
Figures released earlier this year by The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that the number of accelerated possession cases (section 21 no-fault eviction) are in fact on a downward trend, with nearly 5000 fewer cases in 2017 than in 2016. Previous figures had followed a modest upward trend since 2010.
This, in my opinion, demonstrates that the measures introduced are working and fewer landlords are using the section 21 accelerated procedure.
Since the introduction of the Deregulation Act 2015, tenants have an opportunity to make a complaint in writing to the landlord (or to the landlord’s agent) regarding the condition of the property. The landlord then has 14 days to respond to the complaint.
If the matter is not dealt with, the tenant can then make a complaint to the relevant local housing authority who has the power to issue an improvement notice or hazard awareness notice. If a tenant has taken these steps and a landlord has not complied, a section 21 notice served in England would be invalid and any possession claim struck out.
Also, under the Deregulation Act 2015, a section 21 notice has a 6-month life span from the date the notice is dated. It is a case of use it or lose it. If a landlord lets the notice run out without starting court proceedings, it is no longer effective and must be re-served if the landlord wishes to subsequently take court action. Previously, before the law change came in, we were being instructed to act on notices which were up to four years old!
A major issue we constantly encounter is tenants not following recommendations on heating and ventilation, and not to dry clothes on radiators etc., to prevent the buildup of damp, condensation and mould. These tenants will invariably prevent access to the property by the landlord or the landlord’s agents, who want to take remedial action before the problem becomes too great. Tenants who allow the buildup of condensation and mould do untold damage to the property itself.
What would be most interesting, in relation to the CA results, would be to see statistics from local authorities on how many hazard awareness/improvement notices have actually been issued. This would give a truer indication of disrepair issues.
My advice to all tenants is, if you feel your landlord is not taking your complaint seriously, put a formal request for repairs in writing as soon as possible. Under the Deregulation Act 2015, a landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice until the issues are dealt with. If the landlord ignores the outstanding repair issues, then it should be reported to the local council.
We have no room in our industry for rogue landlords making tenants’ lives miserable and everyone should have the right to live in a pleasant and safe environment. However, I do believe there are far more honest and professional landlords than there are rogues, who are by far in the minority.
This constant war and bad press against good landlords will eventually drive many of them out of the market, leaving tenants with far less choice of accommodation. Any legislative changes should provide a good balance between protecting the interests of tenants, but also, and this is important if enough rentals are to be provided, the investment interests of landlords.
I think that the changes the government has already implemented are making a difference. Any plans to dilute the use of Section 21 even further, I think, need to be considered very carefully so as not to upset the delicate balance between landlord and tenant rights.
Paul Shamplina, Landlord Action©LandlordZONE® – legal content applies primarily to England and is not a definitive statement of the law, always seek professional advice.