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Revenge eviction for the complaining tenant?

View profile for Joanne Ellis
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At present there is no housing legislation in place to protect private renting tenants facing eviction from vengeful landlords. The term ‘Retaliatory Eviction’ has often been used to describe a situation where a tenant raises a complaint to his/her landlord about the condition the property and as a result of this complaint the landlord serves the tenant with a s21 notice. This does sound unfair and extreme, however statistics show that this practice is becoming a regular occurrence within the private rented sector.

The UK is currently experiencing a ‘steep’ and ‘long term’ rise in the number tenants renting in the private sector. There are growing concerns that a high proportion of these tenants are living in sub-standard conditions. The lack of security that is attached to these types of tenancies enable ‘rogue landlords’ to take advantage of vulnerable tenants. In some cases landlords have abused their power to evict by attempting to get the tenant to pay for the repairs.

Tenants are reluctant to complain and are often forced to choose between living in poor conditions and being evicted.

Most often we have to inform tenants who are seeking advice for disrepair that bringing a complaint against their landlord or notifying Environmental Health could actually result in them losing their home. Once their fixed tenancy period has expired or if they have a Statutory Periodic Tenancy, the landlord only has to serve a valid s21 notice which gives the tenant 2 months’ notice to vacate the premises. The landlord does not have to provide a reason for possession. Once it is served they are entitled to an outright Order for Possession. This is obviously quite disturbing news for tenants, especially those with children who would need to find alternative accommodation within the area, which is not always possible.

This problem has made the private rented sector less secure and unstable. The shortage of available social housing accommodation, the lack of mortgages offered and the general economic downturn leave private renting as the only available option.

Local authorities, Shelter, the CAB and other organisations are campaigning for a serious change in the use of s21 notices and restrictions of private landlords which I am sure would be welcomed by the majority. However these changes must be balanced and fair to both the tenants and landlord, ensuring that good landlords are not punished by vexatious claims from tenants.

Perhaps England and Wales could benefit from observing how other jurisdictions deal with this issue. In the United States, tenants have less security of tenure, however there is specific legislation in place to protect tenants living in the private rented sector. In New York City, landlords are prohibited from harassing or retaliating against tenants who exercise their rights of health and safety and/or repairs. Tenants are entitled to collect damages from landlords who violate this law. European countries provide tenants with greater security of tenure. Private renting UK tenants remain less protected. UK housing law requires urgent reform.

Watch this space, developments coming soon. If you have any queries regarding disrepair in your property please do not hesitate to contact our specialist housing team.

By Kimberley White, housing law team