Friday, 20 April 2018

The system is weighted against tenants, good and bad alike

Oxfordshire County Councillor Kirsten Johnson posted on Liberal Democrat Voice about the recent Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report . (You can read the complete Commons proceedings including Clive Betts' presentation of the report here.) What I found most disturbing was the evidence that:
Citizens Advice told us that 44% of tenants said that a fear of eviction would stop them from negotiating with their landlord over disrepair. Shelter and Citizens Advice told us that they often reminded tenants about the risks of making complaints. We heard that 14% of tenants felt that they had been penalised for complaining, and more than 200,000 reported having been abused, threatened or harassed by a landlord.

It was good to hear support for the Labour chairman's report from the other side of the chamber. Bob Blackman agreed:
absolutely with every point made in the ​report. In respect of retaliatory evictions, does he agree that one issue that must be resolved is assured shorthold tenancies of six months, which are the norm for the private sector? If we extended those to three-year tenancies, that would strike a better balance between tenants and landlords.

There were some horrendous stories. Helen Hayes (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood) recounted:
A family with very small children living in poor-quality rented accommodation in my constituency were recently evicted after they complained that the ceiling in the bathroom had collapsed over the bath shortly after they had finished bathing their children. I have no doubt that the next tenant is now living in that property, and that it is the taxpayer who is lining that landlord’s pockets by paying the rent.

Kirsten Johnson welcomes the report’s recommendations:

Tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment. For example, the Deregulation Act could be strengthened to give greater protections to tenants after they make a complaint about conditions in their homes.

The establishment of a new fund to support local authorities to undertake informal enforcement activities.

The introduction of new ways of informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities.

A requirement for local authorities to publish their enforcement strategies online.

A review of legislation relating to the private rented sector aimed at bringing more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.

She concludes:
It is as we protect the most vulnerable in our society that we strengthen the fabric which sustains our communities. We have good policy in this area, and I hope we can push Government to adopt these recommendations.

(The Deregulation Act referred to incorporates provisions against retaliatory eviction inspired by a private member's Bill - the Tenancies (Reform) Bill - proposed by Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather which was talked out by a bevy of Conservatives with interests in rented property. There is more here.)

All the reforms to the law will be of no effect unless there is equality of arms before the law. As this study for Shelter by the Universities of Kent and Bristol points out:

The decline of legal aid has had two particular effects. First, in indiviual cases, legal aid has largely disappeared. This has particularly been the case in disrepair matters. Claims for damages based on disrepair matters are only within scope for legal aid if thee is a serious risk of harm to health. […] Secondly, the decline of legal aid for housing has led to “advice deserts”. In some areas of the country, there is a dearth of solicitors with housing contracts for legal aid. This is an unsustainable position. Telephone advice, which is the first port of call for many, is a poor substitute for face-to-face provision by an expert in housing law. This is most particularly because […] the law is complex and uncertain.

Finally, I should state for the record that I may not be the best of tenants but I have a very good landlord.

No comments: