The BBC reported this week that fewer than half of the local authorities in England have been called upon to prevent so-called “revenge evictions” since new laws came into force on 1 October 2015.
The headline implies that councils might be failing to exercise new statutory powers intended to protect assured shorthold tenants from unscrupulous landlords, but the reality is more likely to be that tenants just aren’t aware of the new law, or about the steps that they themselves need to take in order to take advantage of the new statutory protection.
The new law is set out in section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015. Its purpose is to prevent landlords from using section 21 notices to evict their assured shorthold tenant, in apparent retaliation for the tenant having complained about the condition of their property.
Landlords are required to use section 21 notices (under the Housing Act 1988) to recover possession of property let on an AST following its expiry or on an earlier break date. In much the same way as a landlord is prevented from recovering possession if it has failed to comply with the tenancy deposit scheme , the “retaliation eviction” rules prevent the landlord from recovering possession from a tenant who has raised a legitimate complaint, notwithstanding that the contractual term of their tenancy might have expired.
However, under section 33 the tenant will only obtain protection from eviction if they have gone through specific steps before the landlord’s section 21 notice was served, as follows:
1. First, making a complaint in writing to the landlord about the condition of the property, which the landlord fails satisfactorily to deal with within 14 days;
2. After those 14 days, making a fresh complaint to their local housing authority about the same problem;
3. Obtaining from the local housing authority in response to that complaint an Improvement Notice or a Notice Requiring Emergency Remedial Action (both under the Housing Act 2004), served on the landlord.
Only once the landlord has received an Improvement Notice or Notice Requiring Emergency Remedial Action, will the landlord’s right to serve a section 21 notice be suspended, for a period of 6 months. As a section 21 notice must give at least 2 months’ notice to the tenant, this regime should afford the tenant at least 8 months’ further enjoyment of their property from the date on which the local authority’s notice was served on the landlord.
In order for these new protections to operate successfully, assured shorthold tenants should ensure that they are aware of their rights, and of the need to make formal complaints to both their landlord and the local housing authority.
There are also clear lessons for landlords, here, too. Not only should landlords ensure that their let properties are habitable and in repair, but they should also ensure that if they receive a complaint from their tenant, they provide an “adequate response” within the meaning of section 33, in good time. That is: they should provide within 14 days a written description of the remedial action they intend to take, and they should set out a reasonable timescale in which to carry it out.