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Viewpoint by Tom Entwistle

What at first glance may seem an innocuous change to the no-quibble eviction process afforded to landlords since the introduction in the 1988 Housing Act, the section 21 procedure, in my opinion has very serious and far reaching consequences for the future of the private rented sector (PRS).

A recent Government press release says:

“The government vow to work to outlaw so-called ‘revenge evictions’ that destroy a tenant’s right to expect to rent a safe and secure home.”

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This follows a couple of rather spurious surveys and a Shelter petition to Communities Minister Stephen Williams and a private member’s Bill on the matter, due to be brought before the House in November by Sarah Teather MP.

The press release goes on to say:

“Ministers gave their backing in principle to a Private Member’s Bill to stop the small minority of rogue landlords who, rather than meet their legal duty to keep their properties at a reasonable standard and remove health and safety hazards, instead evict tenants simply for asking for essential repairs to be made – on the condition that the Bill only targets bad landlords and cannot be used by tenants to frustrate legitimate evictions.”

The way this is intended to work is:

“…extend the existing restrictions on a landlord’s power to evict, where they don’t protect a deposit or have a licence they are required to hold, to situations where a health and safety hazard has been identified by environmental health officers.”

My reaction to this is: do these ministers have any conception of the “can of worms” they will open up for the vast majority of good landlords with this seemingly innocuous change?

I came into the private rental market in the 1980s for one reason and one reason only: the introduction of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) and the guaranteed right through s21 to get a property back if all else fails. I consider myself a good landlord, always following the rules to the letter, and I’ve only had to use the s21 process on one or two times over many, many tenancies, and 30 plus years of letting, but the security afforded by s21 was always there.

During my youth I had witnessed a long decline into non-viability of my grandparents’ and parents’ residential property portfolio through rent controls and life-long security of tenure afforded by previous Landlord & Tenant Acts. There was absolutely no way I was going into a lettings business under such circumstances.

Fast forward 40 years and we see yet again a prospective Labour Government is threatening to bring back rent controls, compulsory long-term tenancies and restrictions on eviction.

And surprise, surprise, these Coalition ministers are happy to support a measure which will make it difficult if not impossible to remove a bad tenant.

The ministers say they don’t want to add, in their words “…unnecessary regulation that strangles industry in red tape and introducing laws dictating length of tenancies are a mistake which will make life unnecessarily difficult for landlords and investors.”

The above statements say to me than none of these ministers have any conception of how landlord and tenant relationships pan out in practice: even with the best will in the world, contentious matters such as repairs and health and safety issues, much like anti-social behaviour ones, are horrendously difficult and expensive to prove one way or another in a court of law.

It is pretty obvious to any experienced landlord what will happen. Ask some tenants to leave, for whatever reason – good landlords only ever do this as a last resort – and a repair / safety hazard will mysteriously appear, whether there was one there before or not.

These are the scenarios I envisage under the changes: for a start, Environmental Health Offices and the County Courts are both under resourced and overloaded with cases which will delay matters for weeks if not months. The existing system of “accelerated” possession through the county courts regularly takes 16 weeks or longer.

Faced with a tenant who is prepared to cause havoc in a property and cause purposeful damage to avoid paying rent, and add to this the highly contentious issues such as damp and condensation, problems with blocked access for the landlord to carry out genuine repair work, and arguments over what is allowable as wear and tear, and a good landlord has a nightmare situation to deal with.

The landlord starts off an eviction process using section 8 (landlord has to prove breach of contract) as he can no longer use s21. The legal aid funded tenant defends the action in court and brings a counterclaim against the landlord for damages. At the first 15 minute hearing the judge sets a trial date for six months hence and asks for expert reports.

The upshot of all this, if the landlord does not win, is the tenant walks away having paid no rent for 9 or 12 months, leaving the landlord paying all costs, and in two recent cases I’m aware of, these costs have been well in excess of £15,000.

This is no exaggeration; these cases are happening right now. Far from protecting good landlords from “rent tape” this innocuous sounding addition to the legislation will mean this scenario becomes a far more regular occurrence.  There can only be one result, it will drive good landlords out of the business.

My view is that the no quibble s21 process must be retained at all costs if private rented sector (PRS) is to continue to grow and provide much needed rental accommodation.

This is not to deny there is a small minority of bad landlords out there, but the authorities should use the ample powers they already have to stop bad practice. To bring in a measure such as this which punishes ALL landlords is just counterproductive.

Countless statistics have been bandied about to show how big or small the problem of so called “revenge evictions” actually is, but The National Landlords Association (NLA) and the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) are very concerned about how Shelter’s survey findings are being used: the RLA has commented that they “ignored the inconvenient truths”.

According to the Ministry of Justice figures there were 37,739 repossessions in 2013. This figure represents just 0.5% of ALL tenancies – private tenancies as well as social housing tenancies.

By far the majority of these evictions were for rent arrears. Far less were for issues like ant-social behaviour, damaging the landlord’s property, and not to forget the many instances of where a landlord simply wants to return to live in a home s/he let out short-term. It’s not possible to show from these figures how many evictions where instigated at the request of a tenant who wanted to be re-housed by the council, but this is a substantial number.

David Carter, of the Sheriff’s Office, someone with experience of thousands of landlord and tenant issues has said:

“The Government has already given councils £6.7 million to tackle the problem of rogue landlords and in the last 7 months, 23 councils have inspected more than 6,700 properties and 1,700 landlords are facing further action or prosecution.

“I think the [Ministry of Justice] statistics on actual evictions do demonstrate that the problem is smaller than is being made out and that those rogue landlords could be handled in a way that does not discourage property owners from renting.

“Whilst threatening tenants with eviction is easy, actually evicting them is a little more involved. I have written before about regular delays of 12 to 16 weeks before County Court bailiffs are able to repossess property.”

Paul Shampalina, of Landlord Action, also with years of experience in these matters says:

“Revenge/retaliation eviction was a term recently coined to describe a minority of rogue landlords… this should not be confused with a landlord’s right to exercise a Section 21 notice simply because he/she would like their property back.

“The property market is strong at present and naturally many landlords, a large percentage of which were accidental landlords in the first place, have decided that now is the time to cash in their chips. For others, personal circumstances may have changed meaning they now require the rented property to live in themselves.”

In my view the private members Bill proposed by Sarah Teather, and supported by Brandon Lewis MP, Minister of State for Housing, and Communities Minister Stephen Williams MP, is a very worrying development for all private residential landlords and needs to be vigorously opposed.

Further information:

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/stephen-williams-vows-to-outlaw-revenge-evictions

https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/press-releases/labours-plans-death-knell-for-rented-housing

Please Note: This Article is 6 years old. This increases the likelihood that some or all of it's content is now outdated.
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26 COMMENTS

  1. this law and many more are very much needed. a tenant shouldn\’t be at the mercy of rogue landlords and lettings agents. let me remind you that they are not a minority, its a widely held view that the majority of letting agents are rogue and a good portion of landlords too and they are running a mockery with the lettings industry. what laws are there to stop things like tenants being evicted by s21for no reason other than for the letting agent to make money by ambiguous deposit claims and fees for the new tenant?
    laws will be brought in and you guys will be forced to stop your unprofessional dirty actions.

    • Bob, it\’s clear that you feel strongly about this – but punishing good landlords is not the way to solve it.

      Firstly, on letting agents. As a landlord I am not that happy with them either, and when I next need to let one of my 2 properties I\’ll probably not use on.

      But to the main thrust, the statistics show that \”let me remind you that they are not a minority, its a widely held view that the majority of letting agents are rogue and a good portion of landlords too\” is a false statement. We\’re talking about a small fraction of only 1 in 200 to start with – ie a very small number of cases. I don\’t don\’t that for those involved it is a traumatic experience – but as pointed out, if passed then this new law/regulation would directly impact all tenants.

      For starters, if I know that tenants like the previous ones in my flat would have this protection then quite simply I\’ll be asking for a much, much larger deposit. Forget the month or two rent equivalent, I\’ll be asking a few thousand – if I might be stuck with bad tenants for many months because they can work the system then I\’m going to stack the cards in my favour from the outset (and I\’ll also be far, far more picky who I rent to). Trouble is, I don\’t know in advance if someone is going to cause problems – so I\’ll have to take the reverse attitude to you – ie \”all tenants are going to be bad and costly so I need to protect myself\”.
      So well done on excluding many tenants from the \”quality\” market – driving them to the landlords at the \”dodgy\” end of the market which is exactly where the problem lies.

      Fortunately I\’ve only had one bad tenancy in 12 years – I made the mistake of giving a young couple a chance. I gave them a lot of breaks – I didn\’t throw them out when the rent was persistently late, I didn\’t throw them out when I got complaints from the neighbours about various issues. I gave them a lot of leeway but eventually I couldn\’t ignore the damage to the property, the antisocial behaviour, and more importantly their refusal to accept that there was a problem to deal with.
      Fortunately they left without a fuss – but I was worried, given some of the things I knew they\’d been up to, that they\’d trash the place before leaving. As it was, it took a couple of weeks of my time and more than a months rent in materials to get the place back into a rentable state.

      So, when calling for more controls to further control landlords in what is already a one-sided arrangement, note the saying \”beware what you ask for\” because if passed, these restrictions would (as pointed out in the article) have a very adverse effect.

      • Like you Simon, I gave a young couple many chances, overlooking late rent, complaints from the neighbours etc. Luckily they did leave in the end, but their dogs had trashed the house and garden, they left filth everywhere, broken door locks and window hinges, chewed woodwork, and over £1000 in rent arrears. To add insult to injury, the DPS gave them their deposit back. Wicked landlords LOL

    • Bob well said, I totally agree with you. And the landlords grab tenants\’ deposit money with no justification. The landlords think their jobs are getting rent money but any wear and tear will be paid for by the tenants. Unbelievable!

      • Amy, the deposit must by law be held in a trust account and the landlord has no access to it unless they can show damage etc, which the tenant can contest. If your landlord has not followed the legal requirements then your comments are valid, but \”good\” landlords should not be lumped in with the bad.

    • You have no idea what so ever about the reality of letting. I suggest you become a letting agent, or landlord before you cast your narrow minded thoughts about the whole general situation. I\’ve been in this profession now for the past 10 years and have only evicted 2 tenants for rent arrears and only as a last resort because they were not prepared to negotiate paying their arrears mounting to a couple of thousand pounds, DONT FORGET THE LANDLORDS HAVE HAD TO STILL CONTINUE TO PAY THEIR MORTGAGES WHILE THE TENANTS LIVED IN THERE PROPERTY FREE OF CHARGE, THE LANDLORDS FINANCIAL PENALTIES ARE FAR HIGHER FOR NOT PAYING THERE MORTGAGES WHICH WOULD RESULT IN REPOSSESSION AND LOSING TENS OF THOUSANDS OF POUNDS.

    • Dear bob , Try being a l/lord, you\’ll soon change your tune! I\’m owed £2200 by one, another vanished owing £1700 energy bill and I can\’t afford to pay my mortgage!

    • I agree. I am a letting agent and a mother of two students who rent from landlords in another area of the country. Everyone of those landlords has breached the law particularly with regards to deposits and maintaining the properties. Landlords have taken advantage of the fear of eviction that tenants have if they question anything. The laws may change further if landlords continue to ignore their responsibilites.

  2. I have been a landlord for 12years and had no real problems until this year. Now I have a tenant who has split from his girl friend and is occupying my property with their special needs child.The mother has set up home elsewhere.
    He is being supported by the DHS(you and me) and advised and encouraged to hold out every step of the way.I am paying all the legal fees to eventually get him evicted, A council flat will become avaiiable to him and the child. They came from S Africa for her to work in the health service, he has never worked and presumably never will.

    • Wow, this is exactly why these laws are needed. You want to evict someone because they receive benefits, because you have decided to cast judgement upon them? If you are a landlord, you have been lucky, and probably born in a time where buying a house was much easier, or had parents who were able to help you out at some point. If you don\’t like being a landlord for certain types of people that you disdain, or because you don\’t like laws that recognise a person\’s right to a home, stop doing it, and let some of us hard working (even well off) young people have the opportunity to buy our own houses.

      • God some people…I have had property for ten years and have rented out good quality homes, none of my tenants have lived in sub standard property, your one eyed view is amazing, firstly no one GAVE me property I worked to buy them, and was born to normal working class parents who instilled good values and a strong work ethic, I am not of the silver spoon, its not luck. It seems that your jealousy is clouding your judgement, secondly some of my tenants are DSS, but my experience is that you get good and bad in any section of society, thirdly, If you want to buy a property do so, there are plenty where I live in the North of England that you could get for a decent price, not London prices. so what is stopping you, There will always be an excuse to blame someone else for your misfortune. Get a grip

        • Ten years being the key there, Kevin. As Jeoply said, many landlords come from a time when property was cheaper. In those ten years, house prices have risen twice as much as wages.

          Here\’s a graph. It\’s Daily Mail, but even they can\’t taint raw statistics: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2014/04/02/article-2595298-1CC4D6FA00000578-479_634x424.jpg

          Wages about 40% higher, house prices 80% higher.

          And you talk about buying property – That crucial first step on the property ladder. Most people renting don\’t have a choice – They don\’t have enough credit history to get a mortgage. Buying a house anywhere is not an option for these people.

    • Carol has done exactly what she needs to do to pay her bills, that should be her right as a Landlord. No DSS should be the landlords choice. She will end up out of pocket and with a property in poor condition, that is not the spirit of the original contract. The tenant should give notice and move out if their circumstance has changed and be a burden to the State not the private landlord.

    • Just to clarify here, Carol… you say he\’s paying you with benefits… has he missed rent payments? Asked to pay you less? That might be grounds for action, but you\’ve left that out.

      If he\’s paying you the agreed sum and on time, it shouldn\’t matter how he gets the money. As long as it\’s legal, of course.

  3. In Scotland we have the repairing standard and if a house is not fit to meet the standard then the remedial work must be carried out before the property is let out again.

    This would be a better way of dealing with the issue and would shoot Shelters fox as they start another nonsense campaign based on dodgy figures.

    • And in England, the local authority also have powers to order improvements. I suspect they aren\’t widely used because, as pointed out, local authorities aren\’t exactly swimming with cash to pay all the people needed.

      Like so many other things – there **are** already processes to deal with it. But they aren\’t used and passing more laws to cover the failure to use existing laws isn\’t the answer.

  4. I am an Estate Agent based in Rochdale. Previously I have worked in mainstream housing both in the Social and Private Sector for over twenty years, so have a fair perception of what its like on both sides of the fence.

    I am also a landlord myself and fully understand the sheer frustration of trying to take possession of a property were a tenant has outright refused help or support but has instead paid no rent, made spurious allegations in relation to repairs to a local authority and then has cost our clients further expense in getting back their properties.

    This not only reflects badly on our business in that we have let the property, undertaken the necessary checks and carried out inspections, but no matter how well you manage a property it does not alter the way a person will respond or adapt to dealing with financial hardship. Some tenants simply bury their heads and refused to accept until it’s simply too late.

    I would not welcome any further restriction on the ability to take possession. As rightly pointed out, there is a wide range of legislation in place for supporting and safeguarding tenants. However, their is not much legislation that helps to support landlords and as always good landlords are made to suffer for the bad practices of a minority.

    Instead of wasting time on looking at keeping bad tenants in properties and as a consequence increasing workloads for the courts as well as prolonging repossession action. (Further delaying the relet process to another tenant) I truly believe better regulation of Letting Agents needs to be addressed and landlords who are proven to be incompetent in managing or unscrupulous in their dealings should be made to sign up to

  5. What I would like to do is warn men of all ages to be careful of the woman who invites you to come and live with her because she is rattling around in this large house and doesn\’t particularly want to become a so called landlord/landlady. It is like, \”come into my parlour said the spider to the fly\”. So what do you do? like the numpty you are you move in and because she doesn\’t pay tax on the contribution you make because she is a resident landlady she\’s onto a winner. She also makes you believe that you are now in some form of a relationship. So what do you do numpty, you start to improve the property. You spend your money buying materials necessary to make the improvements and use your expertise being very good at D I Y.
    After you\’ve live there for a number of year\’s she decides she is going to sell and move on and downsize and use the profit she\’s made on the property, due to you maintaining the property in good order, and go and live in the sun. Where does that leave you because she doesn\’t want you to go with her so it\’s a case of thank you very much but Mike it\’s on your bike mate. So what right\’s have you got, because this landlady who pulled the wool over your eyes and conned you into doing work for nothing, which she would have probably had to pay a tradesman, like yourself, somewhere in the region of 100 to 150 pounds a day. You\’ve got no rights according to her solicitor and you are entitled to diddley squat. So if you are invited to move in and pay rent, sit on your proverbial and do nowt.

  6. Perhaps landlords should all sell their property back to the council and have an independent body who inspects them to make sure the standard is kept high according to the regulations. When they fail, we can fine the council.

  7. I have another problem with the angle on this I am pretty sure my agency is the worst I or most people have ever heard of. They have answered one of my many emails and phone calls over the years I have been with them. I am constantly asking for small repairs to be done and then months later nothing has happened. Inventory was not done contract was not renewed etc. etc. you name it they haven\’t done it! And I am pretty sure its mainly or just the agency. So we are stuck in a position were we are too scared to contact the landlords directly for fear of retaliation. And in the mean time 95 percent of our repairs sit there some even I reckon are not good for the property so the landlords would definitely want to fix them! Anyway just saying!

  8. In my opinion….

    I would like to see an official \”recommended\” Landlord Register, for those who run portfolio\’s professionally, and also, an official \”recommended\” Tenant Register, so that those of us who wish to rent to and from decent Tenants/Landlords, can avoid the Rogues that are out there on both sides of the private rental sector.

    The Tenant referencing system that is used by Letting Agents and sub-agencies does not provide a financial credit worthiness check – like it would if applying for a financial product, but rather relies on basic information that is not worth the cost that the Tenant, and the Landlord both pay for. Only the Agents benefit from this arrangement.

    Landlords should also be referenced by the Tenant, to ensure that they provide a well maintained property. The DPS could do all of this, with both Landlord and Tenant paying an initial referencing fee to be registered, and a joint reference fee of 50/50 for updated checks to be carried out prior to entering into contract.

    If changes are made to the section 21 process, then they must be mutually beneficial.

  9. My local council, South Gloucestershire, was reported in the paper as telling tenants to refuse to move from private rental accommodation if the landlord wanted his house back as the council could not offer then a council house. I rang the council to check this and they confirmed they were doing this all the time. So the landlord wants his/her house back but the council is telling them to stay put illegally. The council knows that getting a tenant out is a long and expensive process for the landlord. What future is there for responsible landlords when councils can sink so low?

    • Posset,

      All councils tell tenants not to move until they are evicted if they want to be re-housed. Councils have no obligation to re-house tenants when they leave of their own free will.

      I presume this is why the article says that a lot of evictions are instigated by the tenant because they want to be re-housed, and ask their landlord to evict them.

      I can see why this may lead to misleading stats has many of the recorded evictions are for this reason.

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