Revenge Evictions To Become a Thing of the Past?
The government has proposed a change to the Deregulation Bill to stop landlords evicting tenants in houses where a health and safety issue has been identified by environmental health officers. Communities Minister Stephen Williams said “I’m proposing changes to the law that would outlaw “retaliatory evictions”, so tenants don’t face the prospect of losing their home simply for asking that repairs be made.”
Making repairs to housing shouldn't be a controversial or problematic thing for tenants and landlords to arrange.
In light of the 10% tax breaks landlords receive for wear and tear on their properties, it seems even less reasonable that tenant’s requests for decent standards in their homes, are going punished with No Fault Notices to Quit, AKA Revenge Evictions. These are applied via Section 21 of the Housing Act, yet in many cases this piece of legislation is being misused. Even when it isn’t being deployed, the fear of it is enough to deter tenants from asking their landlords to make essential repairs to their homes.
A report from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau from 2007 found that all 129 of the environmental health officers and tenancy relation officers surveyed had come across tenants in the private rental sectors who had reported that they were afraid to ask the environmental health officers for help in pursuing their landlords for repairs or necessary alterations to their homes because they feared the landlords would simply terminate their contracts.
Generation Rent Manchester have spoken to many tenants who have shared their experiences first hand of landlords being slow to act or most commonly not acting at all with regard to carrying out repairs. While Government ministers often refer to such instances of negligence as few and far between, our findings are proving the opposite.
Approximately a third of renters we have spoken to through door to door outreach have had category 1 hazards in their homes, which have been left unrepaired for more than one month.
There have been emergent trends in recent times of single parent families enduring homes riddled with black mould, leaking roofs, rotten floors. This can result in the tenants experiencing symptoms so severe that they and their children have developed asthma and, in extreme cases, some people have been hospitalised.
In most cases these families are among the most vulnerable demographics of the Private Rental Sector, unable to leverage funding to get legal support for action to represent their needs.
A grim accompaniment to this are the growing impacts of ever worsening Central Government cuts, which are having an effect on our local authorities. Manchester City Council, by their own admission, no longer have dedicated environmental health officers, but instead are covering these roles with staff who also are responsible for five other departments simultaneously.
In one circumstance, a Letting Agent had duped their tenant into believing that there was an “absent landlord” who owned the property, which was in severe need of repairs. In reality, the same Letting Agents were the landlord of the property.
We have to ask ourselves how it is possible that such actions can take place, and go unpunished under current housing law.
The illegal tactics carried out by this landlord/letting agency caused health-damaging delays; all three of the tenants in the property suffered nose bleeds, and became asthmatic during the period of only 7 months in this property as a result of toxins from the black mould growing in every room.
During a phone conversation with the Letting Agency, Generation Rent heard the agents admit “they were actually the landlord”. This rendered the entire AST agreement void. The agent also suggested that the tenant’s “lifestyle” was a major contributing factor to the state of the property.
Not only was this flagrant discrimination against the tenant but, coupled with the illegal activities of the agents, constituted hard evidence that the PRS can act as an incubator for criminality, classist victimization and systematic abuse of tenants. This is by no means an isolated case, with over five other families living on the same road experiencing similar treatment- under different Letting Agents.
Cases of tenants having no access to electricity or gas supply, or suffering extremes of cold are also prevalent. One such real life story has been shared by one of Generation Rent Manchester’s tenant activists who emailed in reporting her bedroom as “minus 2 degrees” when her landlord persisted in refusing to acknowledge a request to fix her heating. The 64 year old tenant in question described herself as a “pensioner” and therefore among one of the more vulnerable demographics. The same tenant was later informed by her (now ex-landlord) that the standard of living he had provided her with was “better than most would expect”.
If Stephen Williams’ legislation goes through it should help some of those in direst need to have their homes restored to inhabitable status while remaining theirs. Unsurprisingly, landlords’ groups are already unhappy about the proposal.
But where does this leave the thousands of renters with less severe but still serious problems in their homes, which they feel unable to broach with their landlords for fear of being given a two month notice rather than the desired repairs? Experiences like those of Harriet Reuter Hapgood, whose nightmare of leaking ceilings and an indifferent landlord garnered social media attention at the end of last year http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/12/my-rented-house-not-my-home// http://harrietreuterhapgood.com/2014/12/02/make-a-home-from-a-rented-house/ are not unknown, and many renters have no idea where to go.
The system is too tilted in favour of negligent landlords who can just dispose of tenants who point out vermin infestations, cracks in the walls or crumbling windows.
Generation Rent calls on the government to go beyond its current, admirable, proposals, and take a wider look at all cases where renters endure unreasonable, often health-affecting, conditions because landlords have too much power. Even cabinet ministers know these are ‘revenge evictions’, not reasonable actions. It’s time to clamp down on them.