Richard Lambert Chief Executive at the National Landlords Association discusses the reality of section 21 notices
Shelter issued new figures recently suggesting there is a crisis in the private rented sector due to landlords evicting tenants for complaining about standards of their rented property –“revenge evictions” as they now call them. However, if you look more closely at these figures, their argument starts to unravel.
Shelter’s figures suggest there has been a rise in complaints concerning retaliatory or revenge evictions. The difficulty is how to prove that issuing possession proceedings really is an act of retaliation against a tenant. Simply serving a Section 21 notice should not be classed as a revenge eviction. There are many reasons a landlord would need or want to serve one, and so long as they do it the right way, it is their right to do so for whatever reason they think fit.
The overwhelming majority of landlords want their property occupied, rent paid and for their tenants to have a comfortable long-term tenancy. Like any other business they want happy customers and steady income. They’re not out for revenge; we don’t talk about any other service provider seeking revenge from their customers and there is no reason to suspect landlords are any different.
Landlords want stable tenancies and NLA statistics show that most are. The average tenancy lasts just over two and a half years and in reality the vast majority of tenancy durations are terminated by the tenant, not the landlord. When the landlord does terminate the tenancy, the cause more often than not is rent arrears. A property will inevitably have some problems during its lifetime as a rental property – indeed, a quarter of landlords’ rental income is spent on repairs and maintenance – but most would think evicting to avoid repairing creates two problems instead of one. The repairs are still needed, but now there is a void, so no income coming in.
Seeking possession can be an expensive business, often stressful for the landlord as well as the tenant. Nor is it automatically the best business option. Ending a tenancy, re-marketing and letting all cost.
Crisis it is not
We are all worldly enough to know that retaliatory evictions do happen, and it is terrible that anyone should lose their home due to the poor, or even criminal, behaviour of their landlord. Nevertheless, the NLA does not believe that the figures cited by Shelter represent a ‘crisis’.
Their figure of 7,600 renters at risk of eviction equates to 0.19% of renters in England (9m), implying that that 99.81% are not experiencing these problems.
Furthermore, the 4,000 renters ‘losing their homes’ represents 0.1% of households in England who rent privately. You have to question whether one tenth of one per cent of tenancies coming to an end is an indication of market failure.
The question remains: is a failure rate of between 0.1 and 0.19% of the market a ‘crisis’? A situation which needs improving, yes, but ‘crisis’ is stretching it too far.
Councils to tackle the issue
The one thing we can agree with Shelter on is that there are some bad landlords, who may end a tenancy if they think they can get away with a new tenant putting up with the problems, and these landlords need to be tackled. Councils need to target bad landlords and force them out of the private rented sector. It is down to local and central government to prosecute publicly and effectively to make it clear that ignoring property standards is already illegal.
Public prosecutions can really help to drill home that bad practice is unacceptable and that there are consequences. Unfortunately, in 2012, fewer than 500 landlords were prosecuted; compare this with the 155,000 people prosecuted for not having a TV licence. Councils should also receive a proportion of prosecution fines in order to incentivise future enforcement activity to protect tenants from the few who think they can get away with poor or illegal property practices.