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The Tenancies Reform Bill – preventing revenge evictions

Retaliatory evictions or revenge evictions are becoming an increasingly serious problem in the private rented sector within England and Wales.

Assured short hold tenants, who are already the most vulnerable of tenants, find themselves at risk of losing their home if they dare to complain about disrepair affecting their home.

Bringing a disrepair claim has already been made difficult due to the changes introduced by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which limits the availability of legal aid in disrepair cases to only those cases where the disrepair is a serious risk of harm to health or safety.

Add to this the risk of eviction as soon as the tenant complains about disrepair and you have a group of tenants with very little ability to enforce the terms of their tenancy.

Such tenants are frequently left unable to issue a claim for disrepair as their landlord has evicted them. Although many will have potential claims for damages they will find themselves unable to pursue these claims because of lack of funding and/or because the claim would be a small claim, a money claim worth less than £10000.

On 11th September 2014 the government backed a private members bill by MP Sarah Teather, the Tenancies (Reform) Bill, which proposes to outlaw such retaliatory evictions by preventing landlords from serving a s21 notice requiring possession on tenants within 6 months of a complaint being made by the tenant in writing regarding disrepair to the property (such disrepair to be within the landlord’s repairing obligation as set out s11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985), within 6 months of the service of an improvement notice, hazard awareness notice or notice of emergency remedial action under the Housing Act 2004, or in the absence of a current gas safety certificate or energy performance certificate.

It will be a defence to the possession claim if the tenant shows that the s21 notice was served contrary to the above.

With the current shortage of social housing and soaring house prices, more and more people, including families with children, have no alternative but to rent in the private sector. This creates a cycle of poor housing conditions and eviction leading to instability, distress and the financial hardships necessarily involved in constantly moving home.

On 23rd October 2014 the All Party Parliamentary Group for the private rented sector launched an enquiry into the bill and considered evidence from organisations representing both landlords and tenants.

On Friday 28th November 2014 the bill goes back to parliament for its second reading. If MPs back the vote it will be the first step taken towards achieving a change in the law to further protect tenants by restricting their landlord’s powers to evict them when the landlord’s motivation is to avoid carrying out repairs to the property.

Whilst this is potentially an important change that offers protection to vulnerable tenants, it does need to be balanced with the right of private landlords to be able to rent out properties and have a relatively straightforward method for regaining possession at the end of the period of the tenancy, as envisaged by the Housing Act 1988. Lots of questions continue to be asked regarding the working of the bill in practice and concerns remain about the balancing of the rights of both landlords and tenants however this will certainly be a step in the right direction towards making the private rented sector safer for vulnerable tenants.