The tenant’s dilemma, a new report from the Citizens Advice Bureau, states that tenants are put off complaining about their landlords failure to keep their property in proper repair because their landlord might retaliate by evicting them under the section 21 ‘loophole’. Government figures indicate, they say, that nearly one million private rented homes fail the Government’s decent homes standard and therefore need repair. It asks for a change in the law to prevent landlords being able to evict under section 21 where tenants are trying to enforce their repairing rights.
Although I do not agree with landlords being able to evict in retaliation to their tenants requests to make their homes meet basic standards, we do have to be careful about interfering with the landlords right to evict under section 21. This has been one of the main reasons for the buoyant private rented sector we have today. If landlords perceive that their right to recover their property is being interfered with, this may result in many selling up or discourage potential new landlords. It is important that there is a good supply of rented accommodation if only because local authorities need to have properties available in the private sector to place people in priority need (who they have a statutory duty to house), as much of their own housing stock has been sold under the right to buy.
As the report points out, the right to evict under section 21 has already been made unavailable to those who fail to get a license for a (mostly HMO) property subject to licensing, or who fail to protect damage deposits under the new statutory tenancy deposit scheme. This could be extended to properties in disrepair, but care must be taken so that ‘devious tenants’ cannot take advantage of it.
However, if the HMO licensing regime is extended to more, or even to all rented properties (as many suspect it may be), the problem may well be solved in that way. All licensed properties need to be inspected at some stage during the 5 year license period, and if it fails to meet the statutory standards, and landlords fail to carry out the necessary work to bring the property up to those standards, licenses in future should be refused. As this will have nothing to do with the tenant, landlords will not have any reason for (or obtain any benefit from) carrying out retaliatory section 21 evictions. Indeed if they are unable to obtain a license because of the condition of the property they won’t be able to use section 21 anyway!
I think that this or something similar, is probably the best way to go. To make the request for improvement work come from the local authority rather than the tenant, so the tenant cannot be blamed for it. Also, once a property has been identified as being in poor condition, this should be noted in the local authority files, and a check kept upon it until the repair work is done. So that if it is then let to another tenant, action will be taken without the tenant having to do anything about it.
The report suggests at the end that the right to use section 21 could also be limited to landlords who are members of an accreditation scheme or other similar organisation. However I think that this would probably be a step too far. There is no point in having a strong scheme to protect tenants, if because of it few people are prepared to be landlords any more. This will benefit no-one, tenants least of all, as there will be fewer properties available for them to rent.