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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