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‘Revenge evictions’ – What do landlords need to know?

Posted on 2015-04-23

After a long and protracted campaign by numerous MPs and pressure groups, the law surrounding part of the eviction process has recently changed for good.

A "revenge eviction", as it's known in the media, is when a landlord ends a tenancy or submits a section 21 notice after a tenant has complained to the landlord about a matter relating to the rented property.

The idea was initially put forward by Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather and housing charity Shelter, in order to advocate a defence against Section 21 possession claims made by landlords. After going in and out of parliament and becoming somewhat of a political football, the amendment to the Deregulation Bill was ‘talked out’ of parliament in December.

Despite this, the idea of changing the law in favour of tenants received high levels of cross-party support, meaning many predicted that it was almost certain that we would see a change in law this spring.

This prediction proved to be unerringly accurate and after being debated in the Lords on March 4th, the proposal received Royal Assent and became law on March 30th.

What is a Section 21 notice?

A Section 21 Notice, imaginatively named after Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, allows a landlord to regain possession of their property but only at the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy or fixed term tenancy agreement.

Landlords are able to issue a Section 21 notice without giving any reason for ending the tenancy agreement and this is where some of the controversy has stemmed from.

The new law centres around the fact that landlords will now be unable to issue a section 21 notice if their tenant has previously complained (in writing) about the condition of the rental property and the landlord has failed to deal with the complaint properly and within a specific time period.

The term ‘revenge eviction’ or ‘retaliatory eviction’ has been coined in media reporting of certain cases of landlords serving a S21 notice after tenants had complained about the condition of the property.

Of course, tenants must be able to raise issues with their landlord or agent without the fear of losing their home, and the few landlords who have undertaken such unscrupulous practice deserve to be punished.

Some agents and landlords in opposition to the changes say that tenants could exploit the new law by making vexatious claims in order to delay the evictions process, translating to lengthy delays in regaining possession or high court costs.

Richard Price, Executive Director of the UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA), said that landlords and their agents should have the right to possession if needed. He added that UKALA don’t believe that the changes will make a difference to the problems that a minority of tenants sadly experience.

There is evidence to suggest that in some cases landlords are taking too long to deal with property problems put forward by their tenants. A study of 500 tenants published last year claimed that two thirds have had to dip into their own pockets to fund repairs because they could not wait for the agent or landlord any longer.

That said, over 80 per cent of those surveyed said their landlord or agent is approachable and friendly, and only 12 per cent claimed that their landlord had made promises that they couldn’t keep.

What are the changes in law and how do they affect landlords?

- When a tenant complains, in writing, to their landlord about the condition of their property, the landlord has 14 days to respond.

- If the landlord responds and then carries out the desired work, this will have no impact on their right to serve a Section 21 notice in the future.

- If the repairs/improvements are not carried out or the landlord fails to respond to the tenant’s written complaint within 14 days, the tenant then has the right to complain to their local authority.

- The local authority then has to decide whether it wants to issue the landlord with a Relevant Notice – which requires the landlord to carry out the work/improvements on the rental property.

- If the local authority does not issue a Relevant Notice, this does not affect the landlord’s right to issue a Section 21 notice.

- If the local authority does not clearly decide whether to issue a Relevant Notice, tenants will be able to successfully defend a Section 21 notice, if served with one.

- If the local authority does decide to issue a Relevant Notice, as well as having to carry out the repairs/improvements to the property, the landlord will not be able to serve a Section 21 notice for six months from that date.

Now that the change in law has received Royal Assent, to bring it officially into force it will need a commencement order. Due to the general election and the forming of a new government the date looks likely to be later this year at the beginning of October, although there has been no official announcement yet. The legislation may not be being officially ‘policed’ yet, but the majority of landlords and agents across the UK are expected to be preparing for it now.

The details set out above are a summary and are in no way exhaustive. If you’re worried about the changes it is worth getting in contact with your letting agent or a landlord association to get more information.

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