Revenge eviction a hazard for landlords?
The ban on ‘revenge eviction’ under section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015 affects new assured shorthold tenancies which began on or after 1 October 2015. Section 21 notices can now be served as those tenancies have been in place for four months, so landlords need to be aware of how this ban works.
This new provision prevents landlords from serving a valid section 21 notice when an Improvement Notice or Notice of Emergency Remedial Work under the HHSRS (a “relevant notice”) has been served within the previous six months, and creates the possibility of having a section 21 notice made retrospectively invalid when the tenant complained about the condition of the property prior to the service of the section 21 notice, and this is later backed up by service of a relevant notice by the local authority.
Landlords ought to be aware of HHSRS works, and the possible sanctions they can face for failing to keep their property free from hazards. However, enforcement action under HHSRS has been haphazard. A recent report by environmental health and housing consultant Stephen Battersby for Karen Buck MP highlighted that the use of formal enforcement methods by many local authorities is rare, and for other authorities virtually non-existent.
Will the Deregulation Act put pressure on local authorities to carry out more formal enforcement work? You might expect the Government would put pressure on local authorities to issue more improvement notices (especially since s33 was added to the Deregulation Bill in a Government supported amendment), but there is no sign of this yet. In fact, the statutory enforcement guidance, which local authorities are required to have regard to, and which has not been updated since February 2006, does not discourage the informal approach and states that a hazard awareness notice will sometimes be an appropriate response to even a category 1 hazard (the most serious kind).
Local political priorities are likely to influence whether or not ‘relevant notices’ are served often enough and quickly enough to make the provisions against revenge eviction of any practical use to tenants. Resourceful tenants will no doubt use solicitors, advice centres, local councilors, and MPs to apply pressure on environmental health officers to carry out inspections and issue improvement notices quickly.
The real issue for landlords created by s33 of the Deregulation Act is not its relatively modest protections against retaliatory eviction but the cultural change necessary to deal with HHSRS complaints early or, better still, to identify and resolve the issues before they are even complained of. Longer term this is likely to result in a need to make investments in property which will impact on landlord’s financial position and the return on their property investments.