On Thursday 6th December our campaign to end unfair evictions reached the Houses of Parliament.
Labour MP Karen Buck, in partnership with the End Unfair Evictions campaign, sponsored a Westminster Hall parliamentary debate on the problems pertaining to Section 28 evictions. MPs came together to share horror stories from their constituents of evictions as well as discuss the larger power imbalances born of the constant threat of eviction many tenants live with.
Karen Buck MP told Parliament: “Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last year found that the number of private tenants being evicted had risen by one fifth, that the overwhelming majority of the increase in possessions was driven by section 21, and that that was highly concentrated, with four out of five such repossessions being in London and the south-east, where rents are highest. It is precisely that concentration of section 21 use in certain areas correlating with the areas where market rents have risen most rapidly that I think is a real cause for concern.”
Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson Wera Hobhouse spoke about a constituent’s experience of a section 21 eviction: “My constituent, who suffered from both anxiety and depression, was incredibly distressed about the landlord’s refusal to pay for or complete repair work. She repeatedly tried to get the landlord to listen, with no progress. Eventually, worn down by the stonewalling, she withheld rent for a very short time. Within a matter of days she was issued with an eviction notice, requiring her and her daughter to leave the property within eight weeks.
“Section 21 evictions permanently tilt the balance of power towards landlords and cement a culture of fear, in which tenants are afraid to stand up for themselves. Given the threat of losing a cherished family home, unwanted financial pressure and the risk of homelessness, that cannot be surprising.”
Newham MP Lyn Brown had a similar story about a constituent, Martin, and his family. His bathroom “had tiles falling off the walls when they used the shower, and the ceiling was at risk of falling in under the weight of water that was sitting in the plaster. In his son’s bedroom, water streamed down the walls and through the ceiling, damaging the laptop that he needed to do his schoolwork.” Instead of carrying out repairs in response to repeated complaints, the landlord served them with a section 21 eviction notice in August this year. “He was given absolutely no reason why the family needed to move.”
Brown said, “Martin is still in the property, resisting the eviction, with support from the London Renters Union. I pay tribute to the work that that organisation does in supporting many of my constituents who find themselves in similar situations… Martin believes, as I do, that this is a revenge eviction. By demanding their right to live in a home fit for human habitation, Martin and his family have simply made themselves more trouble than they were worth. The landlord knows that he can rent the property to someone else, probably for a higher figure, and can just sit it out and wait until they start to complain about the conditions, and then he will go through the same cycle again.”
Grahame Morris, the Labour MP for Easington, spoke of the broader macro trends in housing which have led to today’s asymmetric landlord-tenant relationship, saying: “The housing security enjoyed by the post-war generation has been systematically eroded through the right to buy, the failure to build truly affordable low-rent social housing, and the boom in the buy-to-let sector. Those factors have moved many tenants from housing security to housing insecurity in the private sector. The right to buy, coupled with the failure to build, has created generation rent […] and our children are paying the price. They are financially excluded, and for many home ownership is a distant dream. Their reality is insecurity and relatively high-cost private rents with few enforceable rights.
“Clearly, section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 and “no fault” evictions create—in fact, add to—a one-sided power imbalance, with landlords having practical rights while tenants have what are, in effect, unenforceable paper rights. This power imbalance encourages poor management practice, with tenants worried about challenging rent rises and often afraid to ask for essential repairs because they fear eviction.”
Labour MP Melanie Onn used her debate time to offer policy suggestions to the Government. She told the Housing Minister the no-fault eviction process was unnecessary:
“It is easy to prove that a tenant is in rent arrears or has caused significant damage to a property, easy to prove that you are in the process of selling a rented property, and easy to prove that you have genuinely reclaimed a property for self-use and not to rent commercially to another tenant. So simplifying section 8 and putting in a proper system that means landlords must give a valid reason for eviction—I say again—should not be beyond the means of the Government. If we create a system that provides better checks and balances, there seems to be no reason at all to keep a no-fault eviction clause that causes so much hurt for thousands of tenants around the country.”
Conservative MP Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) said that he had not intended to speak in the debate, but found Karen Buck’s contribution “powerful” and was “personally persuaded” that “it would be appropriate to look again at the issue of no-fault evictions”, since “a house is not like any other commodity […] It is a matter of supreme, central importance to the security of individuals, their sense of wellbeing and their mental health”. Chalk commented: “I am entirely persuaded that landlords who issue a notice in a cynical, cruel and egregious way—in an almost deliberately upsetting way—should not be in a position to do so.”
However the Government minister in attendance, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Heather Wheeler proved hesitant to commit to abolishing section 21.
Wheeler told colleagues: “Section 21 provisions provide an important guarantee to landlords that they will always be able to get their property back at the end of the tenancy. The flexibility for landlords and mortgage providers to recover their asset if they need to is crucial to retaining investment and supply in the sector, including the availability of buy-to-let mortgages.”
A full transcript of the debate can be found here.