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Retaliatory eviction law under review

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In the last couple of weeks, at a conference at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Communities and Local Government department is considering introducing legislation to stop ‘retaliatory eviction’, where tenants’ complaints to their landlords about poor housing conditions result in them losing their home.

The conference was told that the private rented sector in England is expanding rapidly and is now larger than the social rented sector, providing homes for more than four million households. At least a third of homes in the private rented sector fail to meet the decency standard.

There has been plenty of discussion of retaliatory eviction in recent times as it is a big problem in the private rented sector. On 12 February 2014 the Government published a Review of Property Conditions in the Private Rented Sector. This is a 'discussion document' which considers how best to tackle rogue private landlords, without negatively impacting on the good ones. The document suggests one way of helping to reduce retaliatory evictions may be to introduce restrictions on landlords evicting using the section 21 possession procedure of the Housing Act 1988 in a situation where repairs or improvements have not been carried out to a property.

There are already procedures in place preventing a landlord relying on a section 21 notice, for example, where a landlord or letting agent fails to place a tenant’s deposit in an authorised tenancy deposit scheme. You would think that is fairly straight forward to determine as it’s a factual issue; either the deposit has or has not been protected. However, restricting a landlord from relying on a section 21 notice due to poor housing conditions might prove trickier.

Where is the starting point for poor housing conditions? What about false or exaggerated complaints from tenants? Some have suggested adopting the approach used in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of the USA, where landlords cannot obtain possession if the property contains health-threatening hazards.

Simon Gordon, consultant to the Residential Landlords Association, told the conference that section 21 was a ‘holy grail’ to landlords. Mr Gordon said: “The government should be very careful about touching that.”

I wait with interest to see whether further reforms are made of the section 21 procedure. We should hopefully know more over the summer so watch this space. 

By Mark Pimblett, litigation executive in the housing law team