Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Shelter launches campaign to protect private renters from ‘revenge evictions’

Too many tenants living in poor quality private rented homes are afraid to ask their landlord to fix a problem for fear of so-called ‘revenge evictions’, according to Shelter, but landlords hit back to accuse the charity of scaremongering.

The charity has launched a campaign to tighten up protections for people who face the threat of losing their home simply because they have spoken up about bad conditions.

In the past year alone, the charity claims more than 213,000 renters across England have faced eviction because they asked their landlord to fix a problem in their home.

The organisation’s study also found many were too scared of eviction to complain at all – 8% said they’d avoided asking their landlord to repair a problem or improve conditions in the last year in case they were evicted.

Shelter’s ‘9 million renters’ campaign is urging the Government to change the law to protect tenants. The charity said the problem of revenge – or retaliatory – evictions was particularly concerning, given the growth of the private rental sector in recent years.

As the English Housing Survey (EHS) revealed earlier this year, in 2012-13 private rent overtook the social sector as the second largest tenure, accounting for 4 million and 3.7 million renters respectively. It also pointed out that the private rented sector also has the largest number of non-decent homes. Of the 4.9 million homes classed as non-decent in 2012, the EHS revealed a third (33%) were privately rented.

This is echoed in Shelter’s study, which found that bad conditions were widespread, with more than 40% of renters having problems with mould in the past year. Furthermore, 25% had lived with a leaking roof or windows, while 16% had electrical hazards in their home.

“No-one should lose their home for asking their landlord to fix a problem, yet these shocking findings uncover the true scale of unfair evictions taking place across the country,” said Campbell Robb, the charity’s chief executive. “We’re calling on people across the country to sign our petition and send the Government a message that England’s nine million renters deserve better, now.”

Shelter highlighted a number of examples from across the country. These included:

  • A family in Norfolk who were handed an eviction notice three weeks after reporting damp and mould to their landlord
  • A couple in Brighton who complained that the mould and damp in their home was affecting their health, and were served an eviction notice just a week later
  • A family from Lancashire who were evicted after complaining about a leaking roof – their landlord told them it ‘wasn’t worth his while’ to fix the problem

“In a market where there simply aren’t enough homes to go around, renters are easily replaceable. Landlords know this, and so do renters themselves,” said Hannah Gousy, of Shelter’s policy and campaigns team. “There is currently no specific legislative protections in place to stop renters who report poor conditions being evicted from their homes.

“This obviously makes their position extremely precarious, and restricts their consumer power to bargain for better conditions. Many renters feel they have no choice but to put up with dreadful conditions, as they dare not risk provoking their landlord.”

However, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has disputed the charity’s findings and called upon it to stop “campaigning against landlords”.

Using the charity’s own figures, it pointed out that those allegedly threatened with eviction for reporting problems to their landlords represents little more than 2% of the 9 million renters the charity mentions. Furthermore, it pointed out the figures refer to those facing eviction and not actual evictions.

The landlords’ body also accused Shelter of failing to explain how many of the tenants weren’t paying their rent on time, and how many of the evictions were the result of tenancies coming to a close. In this instance, the RLA added, many landlords may have sought possession of their properties in order to embark on refurbishments. The charity has also “fails to indicate how many tenant evictions are as a result of anti-social behaviour”.

According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2013 the total number of tenants who had their homes repossessed by the courts in both private and public housing came to 37,739 homes – a figure that equates to 0.5% of all rented homes in England.

“Shelter are once again needlessly playing to people’s fears,” said Alan Ward, chairman of the RLA. “Whilst the RLA accepts that there are landlords who should be rooted out of the sector, the fact that almost 98% of tenants have not faced the problems should be a sober reminder to Shelter that the majority of tenants face no problems whatsoever with their landlord.

“The best response to the problems that Shelter identifies is to encourage more good landlords into the sector in order to boost the supply of homes to rent and to provide tenants with genuine choices over where they live. Shelter’s continued vilification of landlords will serve only to put the good landlords off further investment in the sector and push tenants into the hands of those operating under the radar.”

Click here to see the shelter campaign: "9 million renters"

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