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Government considering new laws to stop 'retaliatory evictions' of private tenants

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Government considering new laws to stop 'retaliatory evictions' of private tenants

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Local Government

Government considering new laws to stop 'retaliatory evictions' of private tenants Government considering new laws to stop 'retaliatory evictions' of private tenants

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is considering introducing legislation to outlaw the ‘retaliatory eviction’ of tenants who complain to their landlords about poor housing conditions.

The announcement was made by Jonathan Bramhall of the DCLG’s private sector property division at the CIEH’s sixth annual housing and health conference in London.

Mr Bramhall said the DCLG received more than a thousand reports of retaliatory evictions a year and had also received evidence of the practice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

He told the conference that, following a consultation on the private rented sector concluded in March, the government would announce by the summer any new laws it wished to introduce. It was committed, he said, to cracking down on rogue landlords and improving conditions for tenants.

One way to protect tenants, he speculated, would be to block landlords from evicting using Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, if the property contained health-threatening hazards - an approach adopted in Australia, New Zealand and some parts of the US.

He said it could also be possible to extend rent recovery orders to landlords who had illegally evicted tenants or let hazardous properties. But no decision had yet been made.

Simon Gordon, consultant to the Residential Landlords Association, told the conference that Section 21 was a ‘holy grail’ to landlords, adding: "The government should be very careful about touching that."

Ahead of introducing any new laws, said Mr Bramhall, the DCLG was committed to publishing next month a revamped tenants’ charter and, in July, a code of practice for landlords on managing property.

Later this year, DCLG would publish a lay-person’s guide to the housing health and safety rating system and, in October, revised guidance for local authorities on tackling rogue landlords, replacing 2012 guidance.

The government had introduced powers, under the Energy Act 2013, to require landlords to fit smoke and carbon monoxide alarms but would only implement them if there was a "clear need to do so and the benefits outweighed the costs". It had not yet been decided whether to impose on landlords a legal duty to check electrical appliances, as they had for gas appliances.

On licensing houses in multiple occupation, Mr Bramhall said that some local authority selective schemes covering large areas constituted a "blanket approach", which the government did not support, covering all landlords whether they were bad or not: "The risk is that good landlords are caught up and that imposes on them extra costs. We want to focus on the bad landlords."

Two options, he said, were restricting the geographical area of selective schemes or scrapping them, in favour of schemes focusing on landlords rather than property. Landlords who were not part of a landlord association or had a failed a ‘fit and proper person test’, he said, could be subject to compulsory accreditation.

He said that next month the current £5,000 cap on fines for illegal eviction would be replaced by a potentially unlimited fine.

CIEH principal policy officer Bob Mayho said: “The CIEH is in active discussions with Better Regulation Delivery Office to set up a national expert panel on housing issues.

“In relation to the government's consideration of the next steps on their review of conditions in the sector the CIEH hoped that proposals would be brought forward to reform Section 21 and bring to an end retaliatory evictions. The CIEH has also long called for a review of the HHSRS operating and enforcement guidance and in its response to the Government discussion paper had supported a relaxation of the onerous bureaucracy associated with selective licensing schemes.”

The conference was told that the private rented sector in England is expanding rapidly and is now larger than the social rented sector, providing homes for more than four million household.

At least a third of the sector fails to meet the decency standard. Wales is set to introduce mandatory licensing of all private sector landlords later this year.

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