Dangerous, broken stairs, or mouldy walls making your family ill? What do you do if the landlord won’t make sure your home is safe? Private renters can contact their council, who have a responsibility to enforce housing safety standards. The council should investigate complaints and if they find a serious hazard, take enforcement action against the landlord, which triggers protection against revenge eviction for the tenant.
But new analysis by Generation Rent shows that just one in every 20 renters who complains to the council about poor conditions gets protection from a revenge eviction. Even when a severe hazard is found, tenants only get protection from eviction in 1 in every 5 cases.
Council cuts mean that the current system of enforcing housing safety standards through local authorities is crumbling. The Deregulation Act 2015 prevents landlords from evicting tenants using Section 21 for six months when the council has served an improvement notice after finding a serious ‘Category 1’ hazard in the property. Yet private renters are losing this vital protection because local authorities don’t have the resources to get out to inspect a property and pursue formal enforcement action. This leaves private renters trapped in unsafe homes without the confidence to ask for repairs, and allows criminal landlords to continue to operate unchecked.
Our findings reinforce the urgency to abolish Section 21 evictions, which don’t require landlords to provide a reason for removing tenants and facilitate revenge eviction.
Generation Rent made Freedom of Information requests to 102 councils covering more than two-thirds of England’s private renter population. The 99 councils that responded received 67,026 complaints about housing in 2017-18, but served just 3043 improvement notices on landlords. That means just 5% of people who complained to their council about health and safety in their homes ended up being protected from eviction.
Many of the complaints may not have involved Category 1 hazards, but even accounting for those, still a minority of affected tenants were protected. Only 78 councils actually record the number of Category 1 hazards they find, and reported 12,592 hazards in 2017-18. Yet just 2545 improvement notices were served as a result - 21% of cases. Many of these cases may have been resolved by informal dialogue between the council and the landlord, yet a tenant receives no vital protection from revenge eviction in this situation.
The performance of councils in taking enforcement action varies dramatically. Eight councils had a ratio of improvement notices to category 1 hazards of more than 75%.
- Tower Hamlets – 309%
- Merton – 289%
- Nottingham – 215%
- Wiltshire – 96%
- North Somerset – 90%
- Waltham Forest – 83%
- Bournemouth – 83%
- Cornwall – 75%
Five councils served no improvement notices:
- Brighton and Hove (carried out 861 inspections but reported no hazards)
- Hillingdon (reported no complaints or inspections either)
- Kensington and Chelsea
- Kingston upon Thames
- Sefton (despite 360 hazards)
Our data shows that private renters across the country have inadequate and piecemeal protection against revenge eviction. Last year, Citizens Advice published their own research showing that private renters who raise a formal complaint to the council about standards in their privately rented home have a 46% chance of receiving a Section 21 eviction within 6 months. Councils do have the power to protect tenants with serious health and safety hazards against revenge eviction, yet the failure of many local authorities to respond to complaints, inspect homes, and take enforcement action is letting down private renters.
This Wednesday, the 20 March, the Homes (Fitness For Human Habitation) Act 2018 comes into force, giving people on new tenancies the ability to take court action directly against landlords rather than relying on the council. But tenants who successfully use this new law to get the court to order the landlord to make their home safe, and potentially award compensation, will still not be protected from revenge eviction without their council taking action. While Section 21 evictions exist, this new and welcome law will fail to empower private renters and significantly drive up standards in private rented homes.
Ultimately, the best way to stop revenge evictions and truly empower tenants to be able to ask for safe homes is to scrap Section 21. The campaign is winning support across the political spectrum with the Centre for Social Justice, a conservative think tank, including Section 21 abolition in its own proposals for the rental market published over the weekend.
In the meantime, local authorities need better and ringfenced funding for housing enforcement, to allow them to respond to complaints from their rising private renter populations and take enforcement action in a way that meets the legal threshold for revenge eviction protections.
Do you believe that you’ve had a revenge eviction after making a formal complaint to your council? Get in touch with us and let us know by emailing Georgie: Georgie@generationrent.org
Generation Rent is part of the End Unfair Evictions coalition. Join us - ask your MP to pledge their support to end Section 21.
The FOI data is available on a Google Sheet here. Thanks to the Generation Rent volunteers who gathered the data, including Mick O’Neill-Duff.