Many tenants feel worried when they have to report a problem to their landlord. There’s the feeling that you might be putting them out, or that even though you didn’t cause the leaky boiler, it’s somehow your fault. Sometimes renters are unclear whose responsibility it is to make repairs (hint: it’s usually the landlord’s).
UK tenants going to landlords with complaints about derepair or hazards have good reason to worry. Under the current renting law, landlords can evict tenants without giving a reason, and some choose to do this instead of fixing the problem. There’s nothing the tenant can do about it.
Under a rolling, month-to-month tenancy, a landlord can use what’s called a Section 21 notice to undertake a “no fault” eviction (meaning they’ve decided not to renew the lease), giving the tenant just two months to find somewhere new to live. This is the case even if they have been at the property for years, have never caused a problem and are on time each month with the rent.
Retaliatory evictions are a real and widespread problem. Research produced by Shelter earlier this year showed that in the last year alone, 200,000 renters faced eviction because they asked their landlord to fix a problem in their home.
The organisation I work for, Generation Rent, frequently comes across this kind of case. Michael, for example, is being evicted for trying to help in his block of flats in east London after reporting loose concrete on his walkway which could have proved hazardous to others below.
Furthermore, we know that the fear of eviction alone stops tenants from going to their landlord when there is a problem. In Shelter’s survey, 8 per cent of those asked said they had avoided asking for repairs from their landlord in case they were booted out.
At the end of November, MPs will debate Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill, which aims to roll back landlords’ rights to carry out retaliatory evictions. The Bill would make a Section 21 eviction notice void for six months after a landlord has received an instruction from the local authority to make repairs in their property.
If it passes, this bill would mean that tenants could notify their agent, landlord or local authority about hazards in a property without the risk of being evicted. The council would have to show evidence of serious disrepair before this clause would be applicable, so landlords wouldn't have to worry about spurious complaints.
The measure would also drive up standards in the private rented sector and make sure repairs are carried out in an appropriate and timely manner. For local authorities, it could help identify cases of disrepair under their jurisdiction and ensure they focus their resources effectively.
The change relies on enough MPs attending the vote on 28 November and voting for the Bill to pass. UK renters can email their MP here and ask them to turn up.
This is a real opportunity to improve the private rented sector and redress the huge power imbalance that currently exists between landlords and renters. It would be good for tenants, landlords and local authorities and is one of the final chances to improve the housing market before the 2015 General Election. Let’s make sure we take it.
Seb Klier is the Policy and Campaigns Manager at Generation Rent.