Published on 26 Feb 2014

Government plans to make evicting tenants easier

Hackney is home for Martin Sanderson. But at the moment he’s homeless – living in emergency accommodation provided by the council.

He says he was evicted from his rented flat, and lost his precious deposit when the letting agents went bust. Without that deposit, he had no hope of securing another flat.

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Martin used to be a proud family man, a homeowner with a job and a company car to boot.

But a traumatic divorce just over a decade ago brought his life crashing down around him. He’s trying desperately to rebuild it, but without a place he can call his own, he’s living on the edge.

He told me: “Having owned a house that I was so proud of, that was my home and my shelter, and then going to the appalling little rooms and private rented places where you literally feel like a battery chicken – you’re being farmed for the landlord’s benefit.”

Martin’s painful firsthand experience of how hard it is to get and hold onto affordable rented accommodation is by no means unusual.

Yet Channel 4 News has learned that ministers are planning to make it easier to evict tenants.

Landlords and some housing charities have been asked to attend a government working group, which met last month.

Officials asked them to “comment on, shape, and influence DCLG’s [the local government department’s] emerging proposals to speed up the eviction process for private landlords.”

Landlords were concerned that “pressures on the courts were leading to delays…It was also felt that some judges were particularly tenant friendly.”

A document entitled “possible options” suggests amending current legislation to make it easier for landlords to evict.

South London landlord Stuart Williams says a government law change can’t come a moment too soon. He’s just sent in the bailiffs to evict tenants he says illegally sub-let his flat. They erected a wall slap bang in the middle of the sitting room to turn a two-bedroom property into three.

His company, Northwood UK, spent five months in legal battles to get the tenants out and the loss of rental income cost him nearly six thousand pounds. Court delays set the whole process back by three months he claims.

Sounds tough, but with rents in the capital already sky high – and forecast to go even higher, aren’t landlords having a pretty easy time of it?

Williams told me: “landlords aren’t fat cats with thousands of properties – they usually have one or two properties that they rent out, with their life savings invested in the property that they rent out to hopefully make a little bit of money.”

Martin Sanderson is being helped by the campaign group Hackney Digs, and says without them, and friends he’s made through a local collective, Passing Clouds, he’d be at rock bottom.

Tenants like him are assured by the government that the purpose of the new working group is to increase security for them, encouraging longer term rentals.

The DCLG told Channel 4 News:

“We have put in place strong measures to ensure that tenants are protected against rogue landlords… In addition we have set up a working group to look at ways to protect landlords and tenants, to ensure a fair eviction process in the private rented sector and as part of wider efforts to increase the availability of longer tenancies.”

But Sanderson fears any new powers for landlords could be exploited by the unscrupulous.

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19 reader comments

  1. Nigel Wilson says:

    We love making things complicated in this country, don’t we? Even something as simple of renting accommodation becomes complex and fraught with difficulty. The most troubling thing of all is that the much vaunted safety-net does not really exist, so once you trip you fall all the way.
    The only rational way out of this conundrum is on the one hand build more homes and on the other let the price of existing homes fall. The idea that the law can protect the rights of landlords and tenants under current market conditions of dire shortage is just a fantasy. An increased supply is the only rational solution.

  2. shazma says:

    As a landlord I’ve never have been in a situation to evict. However I have known individuals who have had a horrible time with their tenants. Subletting and not paying the rent at all. Because the tenant is protected by the law the landlord has to sit and suffer. Seems to be more protection for the tenants regardless if they are in the wrong then there would be for a landlord.

  3. Darlo says:

    My daughter was taken to the cleaners by her tenant. He owes her nearly £8000. He knew his ‘rights’ and kept paying just a little bit in order to comply with tenancy law. We eventually had to take him to court and he left – with no forwarding address. No point in pursuing him as he hasn’t the money to comply with the court order requiring him to pay. Most landlords aren’t ‘fat cats’ living off the misery of others. Many are people like my daughter who couldn’t sell in the recent low housing market. She is now in the process of selling the flat having come to the conclusion that the law is skewed in the favour of tenants. Hungry people are being prosecuted for stealing £20 worth of meat from a supermarket but stealing from your landlord is a ‘civil misdemeanour’ and nothing can be done unless you pay solicitors a fortune.

    1. Lankylad says:

      I agree. My daughter married recently and let her own house.
      The tenant has made a mess of her house, but the letting agency cannot do anything,
      As a senior admin manager I advised her to aske certain question.
      She found that the agency has not visited the premises regularly (as per agreement), so did not monitor the house as agreed.
      She is in deadlock at present and agency does not admit respnsibility though happy to take her fees!
      The law is an ass!

  4. Philip Edwards says:

    Cathy,

    What else did you expect from the tories/New Labour and the LibDems?

    Social fairness? Understanding? Sensitivity? Increase in social housing? Abolition of homelessnes they created in the firs place?

    Don’t hold your breath, kiddo…………

    Suggestion: Watch “Cathy Come Home” again. It was made in 1966, forty eight years ago. Capitalism’s done a bang-up job in that time hasn’t it?

    Still, “the market” will provide won’t it…….Well, won’t it?

  5. agm says:

    Poor, trodden-upon landlords. The last rental property we lived in we were evicted from because, unbeknownst to us, our landlord hadn’t paid a penny on his mortgage after we moved in. In the current situation, where contracts are for as short a time as one year or even six months, it is impossible for tenants to build any sort of life for themselves in the local community. At the end of your year or six months, the landlord is free to kick you out, (usually because he thinks he can doll the place up a bit and get more rent), and you have no recourse, to the courts or to anyone else. We now live in social housing, thank heavens, and I still look back on our years in the private rented sector with horror and disbelief. Part of the unacceptable face of capitalism.

    1. Mary says:

      Completely agree. And it’s the fact that private tenants have so little security and renting out housing is seen as an easy way to make money that puts such enormous pressure on housing prices and make it easy for landlords to keep increasing rents. In Germany people get well into their forties before buying property because they know they have security in privately rented accommodation, so they can decorate and have kids and invest in better heating or whatever. Plus, you get all these little landlords with one or two properties who can’t afford to make the necessary upgrades to their properties because they can barely afford to cover the mortgage themselves.

      Make standard tenancies two to three years or more, breakable with one or two months’ notice on the tenants’ side and six months on the landlord’s side, and professionalise being a landlord. If you want to rent out, you either need to be running a big enough organisation that you can afford to lose some money on a small number of bad tenants, or you rent out though housing associations and other social housing organisations with guaranteed rents every month and someone else taking responsibility for collecting rent, upgrading the property and covering repairs. The three-to-six month standard shorthold tenancy is just awful, and it’s corrosive.

  6. Boletus says:

    On what grounds was Martin evicted?

    A section 21 (no fault) claim would fail as the deposit had not been protected.

    It is extremely difficult to evict someone any other way.

    The people ultimately paying for this silly situation are the vast majority of tenants that pay their rent on time, look after their homes and don’t p*ss off the neighbours.

  7. Jefferson says:

    Many years ago i was evicted for owing £1700 rent. However my rent was supposed to be part paid by the council as i was only working part time. I had over 60 receipts for rent paid by the council, but they hadn’t made a single payment. I went to the law center and the lady rang them and asked why and they said “he never made an application for rent”. The lady (Betty campbell MBE ) had the 60 receipts in her other hand.. I Eventually had £1400 of the owed rent paid however the very first receipt i had was for an appeal to backdate didn’t have enough information on it so it was declined. Because i tried right upto the day before eviction to stop the process i had no where to move my goods, i had a mental breakdown, i couldn’t even move into a hostel as i was working. So i slept ruff and spent 3 nights a month with cold weather provisions. then a hostel let me sleep on the balcony floor where i was attacked and threatend ect until i was given tempory accomidation. If your claimming help for rent get recipts for everything.

  8. Garrett Flynn says:

    There are undoubtedly unscrupulous landlords, but to suggest all who own property are in this category is inaccurate. The pendulum in the UK (and Ireland) has swung too far in favour of tenants. A small percentage of people mis-use this privilege and for many landlords affected, this means financial ruin, long before the process of ‘going through the proper channels’ has been exhausted.

    Often, these ‘tenants’ are of the type who know all about their ‘rights’ but curiously little about their responsibilities. They usually have no funds to pay what they owe, so the landlord picks up the tab. Welfare agencies are good at shrugging their shoulders and charity types wring their hands and make excuses for moral vacuousness. The clear implication is that once you rent your property, you effectively pass ownership (but not responsibility for the mortgage of course) to your tenant, who can then do whatever they like.

    The law is surely supposed to be about fairness for all. It may be fashionable to write ‘landlords’ off as being country estate owning millionaires ‘who can afford it’. The fact is most are just ordinary people who, perhaps in place of a new car every year or a foreign holiday, or a flat screen TV the size of Kent, use their savings to pursue a legitimate business interest – surely such enterprise deserves some legal protection?

    None of this negates the very real need for protections for genuine, responsible tenants. The trouble is, laws are typically drafted with the lowest common denominator in mind.

    Perhaps a points-based ‘blacklist’ system for bad landlords (and bad tenants) could help restore some equity and ensure a better balance of protection for both parties.

    1. Polly Urquart says:

      I think the law doesn’t offer enough protection for tenants. In Germany, the situation is far different. Tenants can make a rented property their own and they aren’t at the mercy of whimsical buy to let “investors” who will sell a property from under the feet of the tenant without so much as a second thought if there’s even a whiff that the housing market may be about to fall.

      The supply of land and new homes in the UK is pitiful considering there’s no alternative but to live in scantily maintained boomer cash cows. Since the economy became one of selling overpriced property to each other and since people haven’t thought about their retirement plans, they’ve opted to put their savings in highly leverage property investments which puts pressure on the low end of the market, causing unreachable prices for first time buyers and singletons.

      To add insult to injury, there’s also uncontrolled immigration, causing further increases in prices for everyone.

      It’s not some sort of entitlement to be a rent seeker and it’s been made far too easy by the seeming bottomless pit of cheap credit that’s offered to BTL investors.

  9. Paul Henry says:

    There is nothing simple about any of this. Yes there are rogue landlords, but there are also rogue tenants.

    What no one seems to have mentioned is that it is difficult to have a set of rules that must apply nationally and thus cover very different situations. There is the world of difference between letting in a London borough or other large city and in a small town or quiet rural area.

    As for a tenant losing their deposit, by law that must be lodged with a government-approved third party within 2 weeks.

    I have been a good tenant at different times and these days am a landlord letting just one flat, part of my former premises. Over the years I have spent a lot to upgrade and maintain it and had it badly trashed twice and been ripped off by tenants on a number of occasions.

    We are not all Peter Rachmans exploiting Cathies, many decent tenants rely on decent landlords.

  10. Philip says:

    unfortunately, there will always be bad tenants as well as bad landlords. And the more complicated we make the law to try and be fair in every case, the easier it will be for those determined to screw someone else for their own benefit (be that landlord or tenant) to achieve what they want. The problem could be solved in 2 ways; 1. a massive housebuilding programme 2. increased & faster access to the courts. Cutting legal services delays access to justice. A lot of these problems could be resolved a lot faster if disputing parties could get access to the courts within weeks rather than months.
    Philip Edwards – not wishing to be picky, but how exactly are “New Labour” involved in this review?

  11. Eric Walker says:

    I feel for Martin, however regardless of the letting agents criminal action, it is the Landlords legal duty to repay the deposit. It makes no difference whether the Landlord has never had a penny – he must repay the tenant.

    Also, if Landlords & Tenants used regulated agents (ie members of RICS, NALS, ARLA, NAEA) then their money is protected and there IS a redress scheme. Look for the SAFEagent mark – a campaign founded by a number of professional agents and supported by Government, The Ombudsman, DPS, TDS, National Approved Lettings Scheme, Trading Standards and many others.

  12. david Richardson says:

    lets do every one a favour in 2015 lets make the coalition seatless and homeless

  13. H Statton says:

    A tip for tenants moving in: When you first move in take photos of the place, sign and date it, and get a neighbour to counter sign it. Some landlords will argue that the state of the place when you leave is not the same state it was originally in i.e. when you moved in. Therefore, you will find yourself fighting to get your deposit back. Even if you contact the agency they let through, the agency will tell you to contact the landlord. And if you don’t contact them straightaway you’ll simply get the answer that you should have told them earlier, or ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’. You’re then stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    When I was a post-grad I moved into a place that looked OK and it suited my budget. Little did I know that there were such delights as a strategically placed sofa that covered a large hole in the floorboards deep enough to turn the ankle of anyone unsuspecting? I had no way of proving it was there when I moved in, so the landlord kept the deposit. Check things out thoroughly before you move in, even if you feel you’re asking stupid or embarrassing questions put them on the spot. It may say you grief later.

    Same place: I also had a boiler that seemed to have a mind of its own. The landlord came around to fix this when he felt like it (it broke down on numerous occasions). Another surprise waiting for me one day was that the roof had collapsed – I had a seriously large skylight through which I could watch the clouds pass by. It took the landlord three days to organise the fixing of this – I was speechless, but thankful that it wasn’t raining. OK, this is an extreme example of a bad (!) landlord, but they are out there. Students beware especially as some landlords know you can be desperate to find a house share, so some of them will take the p…s! It’s worth checking out your rights.

    Of course I also sympathise with landlords that have problem tenants. Tenants can be monsters too. It is a two way street.

  14. David Carter says:

    Whilst tenants deserve protection against unjust landlords, once a court order is granted the current delays in the court system are a joke.

    Here at The Sheriffs Office, as High Court Enforcement Officers (HCEOs) we often hear reports from landlords to say that the court bailiffs are taking weeks if not months to arrange a repossession – only last week a client was told by Birmingham court it would be 18 weeks before they could find the Bailiff resources to evict the tenant!

    In these instances we always recommend that the landlords include Section 42 of the County Courts Act 1984 in the possession order to allow an HCEO to carry out the repossession. If this is granted by the Judge, and most are, the property is returned to the landlord promptly.

    However we realise that we are the last link in a very long chain of events and that to even get the possession order can often take months in itself.

    In the circumstances something needs to be done.

  15. Victoria says:

    Not all landlords are out to make money……we are a military family and had to rent out the beloved house we had just spent a year renovating due to being posted away….I really wish we hadn’t. Our tenants are on a 12 month AST with a rent that just covers our mortgage. They were fully vetted and their 1 and a bit months deposit is in the proper deposit scheme, a full inventory with pictures was done by the agent on their move in. They now owe us £5400 in rent arrears and we are discovering that it will cost us thousands and take months to get them out of our home. And even if we can get them out we won’t be able to get back the money they owe us. So these unspeakable people are living in our beautiful home for FREE, whilst my family (with 3 young children age 4 and under) are now in severe financial difficulty…….we didn’t choose to be landlords, given the choice we’d be living in our own house………please tell me how this is fair or that the law in this case is not unfairly weighted towards the tenant?

  16. Mark says:

    There are many Landlords who own many properties making loads of cash but there are many other working people where a second house or flat they are renting is there ONLY PENSION they do not have any other pension and most of the rent goes to pay the mortgage on the property so they are not greed or rich as many see them as.

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