Evictions:

Private landlords are having to wait an average of more than five months to regain possession of their properties when they applying to the courts, that’s according to figures just released from the Ministry of Justice.

When landlords resort to a possession claim, and it is usually as a last resort, invariably they want possession as fast as possible because the longer it goes on, the more money they lose.

The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) says that the current situation with the courts, and the long delays in dealing with cases, means that landlords often go without any rent and/or suffer damage to the property before they finally get the tenant to leave.

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The RLA says that following a question tabled by Kevin Hollinrake MP, the Government has clarified the position that the average time taken for a landlord to repossess a property was 22 weeks in 2017, up from the 16.1 weeks it had previously quoted using a less common calculation of the average. This, says the RLA, masks considerable regional differences, with the wait for a property to be repossessed being 25 weeks in London and with a low of 18 weeks in the South West.

These sorts of delays, when tenants are in default, could have even more serious implication if the government were to implement compulsory longer-term tenancy of 3 years as has been mooted – the conclusion and a decision on a consultation exercise on the issue is currently awaited.

The RLA is warning that the Government’s slated efforts to develop longer tenancies will fail dismally without urgent reforms to the present system of using the courts for section 8 and section 21 claims for possession.

With tenancies lasting up to three years, landlords would see regaining possession of a property quickly as an absolute priority, especially in cases where tenants are failing to pay rent, when they are causing damage, or committing acts of anti-social behaviour.

Section 8 claims for possession are often long-winded, uncertain of outcome, and can be very expensive if the tenant puts up a defence, so landlords often resort to the more certain but more restricted “no-fault” section 21 process.

In what looks like a precursor to the government’s intended shift to longer residential tenancies, The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has launched a consultation process on a proposed ‘Housing Court’. This, if implemented, would be a move away from the present county court route to resolving housing issues, to a tribunal approach something similar to the system recently introduced in Scotland and one that has operated in Australia for many years.

In the consultation ‘Considering the case for a Housing Court”, the Government is inviting interested parties to share their experiences with the current county courts system in England.

Anthony Gold solicitor, Robin Stewart has said:

“This is on the face of it, a consultation relating to the organisation of the justice system, but it is clear that the Government views court reform as part of their reform of landlord and tenant law.”

A recent press release from MHCLG makes it even clearer that a link exists between the suggested Housing Court and the mooted longer tenancies. It says:

“Changes to further streamline court processes could also provide confidence for landlords to offer longer, more secure tenancies, by making it easier for responsible landlords who provide a high-quality service to regain possession of their tenancy should they need to do so.”

Meanwhile, says Robin Stewart, the drive to abolish section 21 notices and put an end to “no fault eviction”, an issue that the housing charities have been pressing relentlessly, gathers momentum.

“This campaign, spearheaded by Generation Rent, but backed by a range of voices – notably including The Times leader in June 2018, aims to scrap the law which allows private landlords in England to evict assured shorthold tenants without giving a reason.

“I wrote about this campaign last December, says Stewart, after it was reported that a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Government would end “no-fault” evictions.

“My assessment then was that this proposal was pretty unlikely to become law – and it would not be supported by the current government. That prediction now looks shaky at best; although the Government has not yet indicated interest in entirely scrapping section 21 notices, it has invited views on proposals for a minimum three-year tenancy term with a six month break clause.”

With the controversy over no-fault evictions on the one side, and the time it takes to evict on the other, there can be little doubt that significant housing tenure reforms are in the pipeline of government thinking.

The Housing Court consultation is open until 22nd January 2019.

  • The parliamentary question containing information on possession claims waits can be accessed here
    These figures show, says the RLA, that the average (mean) time taken for a private landlord to repossess a property in 2017 was 22 weeks in England, compared to the Government’s preferred figure, the median average, of 16.1. In London the mean average was 25 weeks.
  • The Government’s consultation considering the case for a housing court can be accessed here

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