Access to Justice:
The Residential Landlords’ association (RLA) is calling for “significant changes to the legal system” which would give landlords and tenants quicker access to justice.
The landlords’ association says it believes that the current system is “not fit for purpose”.
Currently housing issues are dealt with through a range of civil and criminal courts and tribunals, a system which in practice is slow, cumbersome, expensive to use and sometimes gives unpredictable outcomes for landlords.
Consultation – Considering the case for a Housing Court
In its submission to the government consultation Considering the case for a Housing Court, which has now closed, the RLA called for a new specialist housing court to be created, “bringing together all these areas of housing work under one roof.”
The RLA says:
“In practical terms it believes the court should be judge-led and sit outside existing court buildings, in civic buildings, schools or even pubs – outside opening hours of course – to relieve pressure on court buildings and speed up the process.”
Under the current system landlords find that using the courts, especially for rent arrears cases, can be expensive and extremely frustrating. Landlords with tenants in serious arrears can wait on average 22 weeks before re-gaining possession of their property. During this time, often no more rent is being paid, and the property is being damaged.
At the end of it all, not only has the landlord paid court costs and sometimes legal costs for a solicitor or eviction specialist, they are faced with a huge debt owed by the tenant, and refurbishment costs on top. If that tenant has no financial resources, the landlord often has no choice but to write off many thousands of pounds.
On the other hand, tenants face an equally slow, complex and frustrating process when private landlords or, in the case of social housing, local authorities, fail to act to tackle disrepair issues.
A new court, which was a key component of the RLA’s election manifesto back in 2017, they claim, could make things better for both parties.
In its consultation response the association says that it shared members’ experiences of the possession process, described by one landlord as: “Very painful. It took an average of eight months with very heavy financial loss as the tenant was not paying rent.”
A housing court would likely be a vital pre-requisite to any change in the tenure laws, especially with the mooted compulsory long-term tenancy which effectively would remove the no-fault section 21 eviction process, leaving only the adversarial section 8 process in place.
Even with section 21 in place, the RLA says that members are “universally dissatisfied” with the possession process and that the amount of time taken simply increases the level of debt the tenant is in, with this money rarely recovered by the landlord.
In one extreme case, a landlord reported that it took more than four years to regain possession costing around £10,000 in the process.
The RLA therefore supports the idea of a Housing Court, suggesting that the current County Court fees are simply too high, and that privatising the County Court bailiffs would save the Ministry of Justice money and improve the level of service overall.