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Revenge Evictions

Revenge Evictions –time to act?

‘Revenge eviction’ is a new concept to me . It’s a deliberately emotive and provocative phrase. But is it just another invention of the tenant lobby’s press agents – something else to bad mouth landlords in their campaigns, or is there a genuine issue with retaliatory evictions in the Private Rented Sector?

What are revenge evictions?

A so called revenge eviction, is where a landlord seeks to remove a tenant after they have made a representation about the state of the rental property or some other aspect of the tenancy. It’s clearly a highly loaded term, but is it justified, and how often does it really happen?

According to Shelter’s figures there were 200,000 tenants in the past year who faced eviction because they had complained to their landlord. A shocking figure if true.

In many ways this issue goes to the heart of the landlord and tenant relationship, crossing the boundaries between the rights of a property owner with that of the tenants – the morals of letting. One could argue, why shouldn’t a landlord decide to stop letting their property to a tenant. If they perceive the tenant to being a difficult customer, is it not fair that they have the choice to withdraw their service? Any other business is free to choose who they provide a service to, once any contract has been fulfilled.

However, equally a tenant surely shouldn’t be thrown out simply for raising a legitimate point over safety or the condition of the rental property. That is surely morally wrong.

The law governing revenge evictions

Lets be clear, in law there is no concept of revenge evictions. As long as a landlord follows the correct procedure for possession then there is very little a tenant can do to defend this. However, a landlord does have to to make sure that they do not cross the line and be charged with harassment. Landlords need to be wary it may be easier than you think for a tenant to bring a case.

Do revenge evictions really happen?

As a landlord, I’m clearly on the side of landlords. I rail against the constant media beatings we get. However, I do concede that there are some bad landlords out there, just as there are deficient teachers, lawyers, plumbers, truck drivers, etc.

I recognise that in these times of high rental demand (particularly in London) that landlords can afford to be picky. Throw the bad fish back into the pond, knowing theirs plenty more out there to catch.

Average, even poor rental property will let, and if a tenant is troublesome, pinicky, or a liitle too demanding about their needs or wants, then I can see that some unscrupulous landlords will choose to get rid, rather than spend money on repairs or upgrades on the property. When money becomes the sole focus then why spend on addressing the leaking tap, overgrown garden or even dangerous wiring, if an alternative tenant is available who will put up with it.

Clearly, where there is a serious safety issue with the property; then this is where a landlord should be held to account.

In the US there is a substantive defence in the courts against retaliatory eviction.

Legislation against revenge evictions

I hate unnecessary legislation, as regular readers will know. You see so much unenforceable rubbish that does nothing for either party. Liberal Democrat MP, Sarah Teather has just introduced a private members bill seeking to prevent evictions. Her proposal, would prevent an eviction by a landlord, for a six month period following a tenant’s request for a repair or complaint of about a fault in the property.

I don’t agree with this. Let’s just imagine the fun and games a canny tenant could play here. Tenants could stall possession by writing a letter about some spurious issue. It would be completely unworkable.

However, I do find myself in the camp of reluctant supporter of some further forms of control. I do think that the wording is crucial, so not to prejudice the interests of landlord, and to prevent overly burdensome legislation.

I would make the additional point, that this kind of selective legislation to balance the interests of landlords and tenants is far better than a blanket mandatory landlord licencing scheme which would do nothing to address these specific issues, and only serve to create another tick box to bureaucracy.

One final point if we are going to have some kind of legislation, can we get away from the emotive phrase of revenge evictions, instead, let’s call it what it really is: Retaliatory Possession.

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