Interesting article from Graudian – Wednesday June 13, 2007
Hundreds of thousands of tenants are continuing to live in housing that
falls short of the government’s “decent homes” standard for fear of being
evicted if they complain to their landlords, a report today has claimed.
Citizens Advice found that private sector landlords are currently employing
a legal loophole that permits the fast-tracking eviction of tenants who
have complained about health and safety or asked for repairs to the
property, and they don’t have to give a reason why.
This process, known as “retaliatory eviction”, is illegal in other
countries and Citizens Advice is calling on the government to change the
law in the UK, which is set down in section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act.
Most at risk are tenants on low incomes living in sub-standard
accommodation who simply cannot afford to move elsewhere.
Author of the report, Debbie Crew, a Citizens Advice worker from
Merseyside, became aware of the practice while helping a seriously ill
woman who was living in damp, cold accommodation. The windows in the flat
would not close and the only heater was a small electric bar.
The bureau helped the woman to apply for a grant to have central heating
fitted, but her landlord refused to pay for the safety work needed before
it could be installed.
The tenant was then advised by Citizens Advice that she could take action
to force her landlord to carry out the work, but that this could also
result in her eviction from the premises. She was so afraid of eviction she
dropped the case and continues to live in unsatisfactory and dangerous
conditions that are affecting her health.
Ms Crew said: “It is totally unjust that people exercising their rights can
lose their home as a result. I have visited homes that are freezing and
damp but the tenant is too scared to complain.
“Citizens Advice advisers are constantly frustrated as there is nothing
they can do to help people in this position, yet other countries have laws
to prevent landlords from evicting people for exercising their rights.”
Fear of eviction
A survey by the bureau of 129 environmental health officers and tenancy
relations officers found that nearly half had seen people deterred from
using help they were offered through the same fear of eviction.
But the National Landlords Association (NLA) said the government should be
careful about “meddling with section 21” as it could be the final straw for
many of the nation’s landlords.
Spokesperson, Simon Gordon, said: “Landlords have already had to deal with
Houses of Multiple Occupancy licensing and the tenancy deposit scheme, and
are now having to buy an energy performance certificate from next October.
“Taking away section 21 – when some tenants can also trash properties –
could lead landlords to simply sell up and leave the business.”
Mr Gordon added: “Of course we do not support retaliatory eviction in these
circumstances and landlords of this type do not join organisations like the
NLA anyway. It’s just important to remember that protection should be a
balance between both landlord and tenant.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government
said it was “outrageous” for rogue landlords to try to evict people for
exercising this right, but added that a quarter of a million fewer private
tenants are living in poor housing today than 10 years ago.