The rise of retaliatory evictions
More than two out of five (41%) private tenants have waited longer than they usually should for their landlord to carry out a repair, according to a recent report by Citizens Advice.
Why? Because they’re afraid of being evicted, having their rent put up or being blacklisted.
The report goes on to explain that there is still an entrenched culture of fear among private tenants. Last year alone, Citizens Advice helped people with more than 16,000 problems around private rented sector homes in poor condition.
Your responsibility as a landlord
Private landlords in the private sector have a legal responsibility to fix problems in a reasonable time – usually a month or less, or 24 hours for the most serious cases.
If you fail to carry out the necessary work within a reasonable time, a court can order you to carry out a repair and / or award financial compensation.
57% of tenants who took part in the survey told Citizens Advice that they didn’t want to force the issue with their landlord for fear of repercussions.
30% of tenants said they’d carried out repairs themselves and 14% had paid for repair work themselves. One family had spent £10,000 of their own money fixing a range of issues in their home, including a broken heating system, after repeated complaints to their landlord failed.
The most common issues are broken fittings, faulty electricals and leaks, all of which can make life miserable as well as potentially dangerous and unhealthy for tenants.
Current protection for tenants
- Assured shorthold tenancies starting before 1 Oct 2015
If your tenancy started before 1 October 2015, there’s no special protection that prevents you as a landlord from evicting a tenant who complains about repairs. That said, new rules are set to come into force late next year and these should provide your tenant with more protection.
- Assured shorthold tenancies starting on or after 1 October 2015
New rules now apply to newer tenancies which could protect your tenant if they complain about repairs or conditions in your property and you respond by issuing a section 21 notice.
The new rules mean a court can refuse to order eviction if all the following apply:
- your tenant complained to you or your letting agent in writing (by letter or email)
- you issued a section 21 notice after they complained
- your tenant complained to the local council because you didn’t take steps to fix the problem
- the council sent you a notice telling you to make improvements or the council would carry out emergency work.
The new rules may also apply if your tenant complained about the repairs to the council because they didn’t have a postal or email address for you.
Service of an improvement notice
If the council serves you with an improvement notice or notice requiring remedial action, the section 21 notice you’ve served on your tenant becomes invalid.
That means that if the improvement notice is served before the court hearing, your case will fail and the court won’t order your tenant to leave.
Service of improvement notice after court hearing
If the council doesn’t serve you with an improvement notice before the court hearing, the court can order your tenant to leave. And the court can’t overturn an order to evict if the council’s notice comes later.
How long does an improvement notice affect your ability to evict?
A section 21 eviction notice will be invalid for 6 months after you’ve received an improvement notice from the council.
The new rules don’t apply if your tenant:
- only complained verbally or you served a section 21 notice before they complained in writing
- complained to the council but the council took no action or only served you with a ‘hazard notice’
The new rules also won’t help if you can prove to the court that:
- the tenant caused the problem they’re complaining about
- you’ve genuinely put the property up for sale – sales to friends, family or business partners might not count
- the property has been repossessed by your lender and the property will be sold with vacant possession (this will not apply if the tenancy started before you took out the mortgage)
The new rules don’t apply to the section 8 court procedure for non-payment of rent.
The way forward
Citizens Advice is calling for better protection by rolling out independent complaints bodies – or Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes – across the private rented sector. Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Renters should be able to ask for repairs to their home without fear of retaliation…renters [need] protection from retaliatory action, so they feel confident reporting a problem in their home and don’t feel like their only option is to dip into their own pocket.”
Steps you should take as a landlord
It should go without saying that if you’re a landlord you should always carry out work as quickly as possible. Try to imagine what it would feel like if it was your family living with the issue that’s been reported.
But actually, there’s more you can do:
- Make it clear to your tenants that you won’t retaliate and encourage them to report issues. That might mean making a point of asking them on a regular basis whether everything is okay. If you don’t want to be that involved, make sure you have a good letting agent, and encourage them to keep an open dialogue with your tenants. You or letting agent needs to be proactive to show that you take your responsibilities seriously and will ensure repairs are carried out quickly, with no repercussions.
- Make sure any repairs done are not done at unsociable times and make sure you give your tenants reasonable notice. It’s your property but it’s their home after all.
- Don’t leave repairs unfinished and make sure someone (you or your agent) follows up with the tenant afterwards.
At the end of the day, your tenants are likely to stay longer and treat your property better if they feel that you care about both your property and them. And that’s got to be a good thing for everyone. If you don’t treat them well and carry out repairs quickly, you may find yourself falling foul of the new legal provisions.
Graham Faulkner is Branch Director of EweMove Dorking
He’s bought and sold a lot of properties over the years and is also a portfolio landlord, as well as specialising in helping other landlords. Apart from his own experience and expertise, he can also recommend the right professionals, as tried and tested by him, to advise you.
Multi award winning EweMove in Dorking is a residential property sales and lettings agency who pride themselves on being refreshingly different and standing out from the crowd. EweMove Dorking covers from Ockley to Oxshott.