Emma Lunn: "We can give tenants more protection but are landlords really motivated by revenge?"


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The Independent Online

In the cut-throat world of private renting, a new war is raging between landlords and tenants. This time the topic is "revenge" or "retaliatory" evictions – where a tenant has asked for something in the property to be repaired and the landlord can't be bothered so evicts the tenant simply for having the cheek to ask.

Does this really happen that often? The housing charity Shelter says it does, claiming that in the past year 2 per cent of renters in the private sector have been victims of revenge evictions, equating to 213,000 people. But the trouble is, Shelter has only asked tenants for their views on this, not landlords. Perhaps the departing tenants were in rent arrears or the subject of neighbours' complaints. Who knows?

Obviously there are two sides to every story but I can't help but be suspicious about claims that landlords would throw out perfectly good tenants purely because they asked for repairs to be done.

Using section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, landlords can ask tenants on monthly rolling contracts to leave with two months' notice – they don't have to give a reason.

The Residential Landlords Association claims the proportion of private sector tenants leaving their homes after receiving a section 21 notice has fallen over the past year. Pointing to the most recent English Housing Survey, it says just 7 per cent of tenants who had moved house in the past three years said it was because they had been asked to leave by their landlord.

The RLA says the vast majority of such "evictions" happen for legitimate reasons. These include landlords wanting to sell or move into the property themselves, needing to perform extensive work on it or because tenants aren't paying their rent or being anti-social. The RLA routinely accuses Shelter of embarking on a "scare campaign" on the subject.

The association is the first to admit that not all landlords are angels. It's as keen to stamp out the rogue element as anyone else – after all, good landlords are often tarred with the same brush as the bad guys.

Whatever the truth about the extent of revenge evictions, the issue is being pushed by Sarah Teather, MP, who has put forward a private members' Bill that would outlaw the practice. Her plan is to tweak existing legislation so landlords would be prevented from evicting a tenant within six months of receiving an improvement or hazard- awareness notice from the council.

Ms Teather says that landlords would still be able to evict tenants in rent arrears and that exemptions would apply where a landlord is selling the property.

To me, that sounds fair and is a reasoned response to some of the hysteria around the subject. Tenants would need to have a third party – in the shape of the council – to back up to their complaint before they could claim a revenge eviction was being pursued.

If you want to have your say on the issue, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Private Rented Sector is conducting an investigation into revenge evictions and is currently gathering evidence.

The deadline is tight, though. Interested parties only have until 5 November to put their views in writing, so you'll need to act quickly if you want to have your opinions heard.

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