After six months of no evictions taking place at all, courts have reopened and landlords can resume the legal process of evicting their tenants.
Despite the government's insistence that "the most egregious" cases will be prioritised, tenants can still be booted out without a reason, with no ability to appeal it and only six weeks' grace if they face "extreme hardship".
This is possible because of Section 21, the law that the government promised to abolish last year. Today it is exactly one year since the government closed it's consultation on proposals to change the law, and we are still waiting for it to publish the Renters Reform Bill to make it all happen. Join our campaign to get Section 21 scrapped.
Not only are people who have lost income during the pandemic facing eviction because of rent arrears. So are people whose landlord wants to sell the property to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday Rishi Sunak announced in July. And so too are people who complained about disrepair to a landlord who would prefer a new tenant to meet their responsibility to provide a decent home.
These revenge evictions are one of the worst effects of Section 21, because the mere threat of one is enough to silence tenants who are living with mould, leaks or infestation. It's one reason private rented homes are twice as likely to be unsafe than council or housing association homes, where security is stronger.
The government even outlawed revenge evictions in 2015, but new Generation Rent research has found that the law is failing tenants.
Freedom of Information data found that just one in four tenants is protected from eviction from their council if their home is found to be unsafe.
Generation Rent requested information on 102 local councils’ enforcement of housing standards in 2018-19, under the Freedom of Information Act. The 81 councils that recorded the data found 11,801 severe (“Category 1”) hazards but issued only 2,898 improvement notices to the offending landlords, representing just 24.6% of the cases. If served, these notices give tenants six months’ protection from a Section 21 eviction, under the Deregulation Act 2015. Without this protection, tenants can be legally evicted without the landlord needing a reason.
In total, the 100 councils that responded recorded 75,099 complaints about conditions in private rented homes. The FOI data is available in a Google Spreadsheet.
Some councils are doing better at protecting tenants than others. Eight have issued improvement notices amounting to 90% or more of the hazards they uncovered:
- Barking & Dagenham
- East Yorkshire
Six councils failed to issue a single improvement notice, leaving tenants unprotected from a retaliatory eviction:
- Brighton & Hove
- Kingston upon Thames
- Southend on Sea
In its announcement to abolish Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, the Ministry of Housing acknowledged that the Deregulation Act was not enough, “Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home.”
As well as discouraging tenants from exercising their rights to a safe home, Section 21 allows landlords to take back their properties with no responsibility for rehousing their tenants. The law is one of the leading causes of homelessness: 28,580 households were made homeless in 2019-20 after their landlord evicted them following a complaint by the tenant, or in order to sell or re-let the property.
Section 21 prevents private renters from enjoying a stable home. England's private rented sector is home to 1.625m families with children, and 1.5m households headed by someone aged 45 or older. The number of these older renters has increased by 55% from 967,000 in 2010-11 when the Conservatives entered government, and will struggle to enter home ownership, with or without 95% mortgages.
With courts reopening there is nothing to stop landlords from evicting tenants who have done nothing wrong.
Boris Johnson cannot let another year go by with tenants being bullied into putting up with leaks and mould, or another 30,000 families being made homeless at their landlord’s whim. The answer to the inadequacy of the rental market is not 95% mortgages, but a whole package of measures that make it possible for anyone to make their long term home in it.
Generation Rent is calling on the government to introduce its Renters Reform Bill - join our campaign here.
What we did
Generation Rent made Freedom of Information requests to the 102 English district councils with the largest private renter populations recorded in the 2011 census, plus the London Boroughs of Bexley and Havering. In total the 102 councils cover around 2,295,000 private renter households as recorded in 2011, 64% of the 3,566,000 recorded in England as a whole. Swindon and Redbridge did not respond.
Councils were asked:
- How many complaints did the Council receive that related to conditions in private rented homes?
- How many inspections of private rented homes did the Council carry out?
- How many Category 1 Hazards were found during inspections of private rented homes?
- How many improvement notices did the council issue in relation to private rented homes?