Tenants 'not protected from revenge evictions'

21 March 2019, Katie Coyne

Furniture and items from a home in the street

Slashed council budgets mean tenants aren’t being protected from revenge evictions and the government needs to scrap Section 21 no fault evictions, according to campaign group Generation Rent.

Just one tenant in every 20 who complain to the council about poor housing conditions in the private rental sector gets protection from revenge evictions according to statistics acquired by Generation Rent. It obtained the data from 99 councils in England, out of 102, using the Freedom of Information Act.

The Housing Deregulation Act 2015 brought into effect a provision to protect tenants from revenge evictions – renters who raised a complaint with their landlord could not be evicted for six months.

However, the provision only comes into force if the council formally gets involved and issues an improvement notice for a category 1 hazard. But many councils try and resolve matters informally leaving the tenant unprotected, and not all complaints will involve this level of hazard.

The top councils for taking formal action and offering tenants protection from top to bottom were: Tower Hamlets, Merton, Nottingham, Wiltshire, North Somerset, Waltham Forest, Bournemouth, and Cornwall. The worst councils, that did not issue any improvement notices were: Brighton and Hove; Hillingdon; Kingston upon Thames; Sefton.

Generation Rent director Dan Wilson Craw said: “One of the things we hear from tenants all the time is that they are living in really poor conditions and sometimes they will have asked the landlord directly, or gone through the council, but the council has dealt with it informally and the landlord has decided to evict them. Sometimes they are too scared to complain about it because if they do the landlord will raise the rent.” 

He added: “One of the difficulties tenants face is that they won’t know until an inspection has taken place, whether their complaint is a category one hazard.” 

Generation Rent also wants to see better funding, and ring-fenced funding – for council housing enforcement to protect tenants.

CIEH policy manager Tamara Sandoul – who is also the co-author of the report A License to Rent, which found licensing schemes can provide tenants with some protection from revenge evictions – said: “The legislation protecting tenants from revenge evictions is not effective. Even when local authorities take formal action, which should protect tenants, the level of protection offered by the legislation is small – the landlord can evict the tenants again in six months’ time.

“If tenants decide to use the new powers in the Homes Act, to take their landlord to court over poor or dangerous conditions in their home, tenants get no protection from eviction at all.

“We would support the removal of section 21 to ensure that tenants are being evicted for the right reasons. However, we consider that this should be done together with a review of section 8 to ensure that landlords who want to take their property back for the right reasons are able to do so.”

The 99 councils that responded to Generation Rent received 67,026 housing complaints, but served just 3,043 improvement notices on landlords. This means just 5% of people who complained ended up being protected from eviction.

However, some of these may not have involved a category 1 hazard. Only 78 councils record the number of category 1 hazards they find, and a total of 12,592 were recorded against 2,545 improvement notices served – just 21% of cases. 

Matthew China, housing renewal manager for Hastings Borough Council – which was not included in the Generation Rent survey – also supported scrapping Section 21 evictions. He said: “If we have tenants who are concerned that making a complaint to the landlord might see them evicted we do a pro-active inspection because we have a licensing scheme.”

“There are a lot of local authorities out there that take a very informal approach but the protection isn’t there if they don’t take formal action.”

On the Housing Deregulation Act 2015 provision to protect tenants from eviction for six months, China said: “It was a political move that actually isn’t working. The pressure was there to come up with something but it didn’t protect tenants. Underfunded local authorities don’t take the level of enforcement action that we do, and certainly that big cities do.”

• This has been a busy week for housing. Yesterday the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) Act 2018 came into force, which allows tenants to take action against their landlords rather than relying on their council. However, this new law does not protect tenants from revenge evictions.

At the end of last week online property porthole Zoopla announced that it will ban adverts from April from its site that bar recipients of housing benefit or 'no DSS' from applying. In England 889,000 people receive housing benefit.

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