By Nadine White
Rats. Mould. Leaking toilets.
The rolling back of a three-decade-old law next year will protect private renters in squalid homes from being thrown out for daring to complain about grim issues like these, campaigners believe.
“No fault” section 21 evictions mean landlords can kick tenants out with two months’ notice once their fixed term is over (that is, once they’re on a “rolling contract”) – without having to give a reason.
But this doesn’t just mean people living in fear of eviction. It also has a chilling effect on people’s willingness to make a fuss about unresolved repairs in case unscrupulous landlords decide they are too much bother to keep happy.
A glance at the casework of the likes of Generation Rent, the London Renters’ Union or Acorn‘s branches across the UK – all unions that campaign for tenants’ rights – reveals some of the appalling conditions people live with for fear of being thrown out.
That’s a good thing, right?
Well… if you’re a tenant, probably. But landlords have been arguing that it impinges on their property rights and could even lead to a worsening housing market.
They say good landlords will be discouraged from letting at all, fearing they will no longer have the legal means to kick out nightmare tenants if all else fails.
David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords’ Association, told HuffPost UK: “We accept the need to protect tenants from abuse but it is crucial that plans to reform the way repossessions can take place are got right if the government is to avoid a rental housing crisis.
“Unless the new system is fair to good landlords as well as tenants, those same landlords who we need to support simply will not have the confidence to provide the rented homes that are needed to meet the demand.”
But no one’s disputing that there are bad landlords, too, and it will be good news for the estimated 4.5m people living in private rented accommodation in the UK.
As house prices soar, that figure has kept pace: it was just 2.7m a decade ago.
Show me some horror stories, then.
We thought you’d never ask.
Generation Rent’s #ventyourrent campaign on social media encouraged tenants to share their experiences of life in private rented accommodation. The results were pretty bad.
Established in 2011, Generation Rent campaigns for professionally managed, secure, decent and affordable private rented homes in sustainable communities.
#VentYourRent has seen hundreds of tenants share horrific experiences of renting in the private housing sector. Here are some of them…
@genrentuk Rising damp has caused our plasterboard wall to disintegrate in our basement and caused mould. Landlord blamed poor ventilation and told us to keep our windows open. #ventyourrentpic.twitter.com/FqetUsWIDd
— Hopelesslydevotedtocaffeine (@Bart_Mekking) November 25, 2019
— Daisy (@ButtonBean13) August 22, 2018
THIS. If you do anything today, #VentYourRent + register2vote.
1⃣ Agency didn’t give us keys = homeless for 3days
2⃣ Boiler broken 5months
3⃣ Evicted after 1month for not cleaning bathtub daily
4⃣ L-lord constructed wooden panelling around walls to cover mould rather than fix it https://t.co/xIcOUsp4SC
— Lizzie Ellis (@Lizzie_charity) November 25, 2019
This has just reminded me of the letting agent that told us we shouldn’t expect central heating for £1,200 a month! ?
— Dan Salter (@EchoesAndDan) November 26, 2019
The landlord who went in and stole most of our stuff when we’d only gone away for the weekend.
Then the one who threatened to evict us if we didn’t find a tenant to replace our friend who’d left Uni.
Then the one who billed us for removing a door that never existed! #VentYourRent
— Sam Radish (@sam_radish) November 25, 2019
— GM Housing Action (@gmhousingaction) November 17, 2016
My landlord came to visit the house without notice 5 times in 6 days. When I wouldn’t give him permission to go into my personal bedroom he threatened to evict me. That was after we tried to get him to help sort out the mouse problem and he blamed the tenants. #VentYourRent
— chaos with ed miliband (@tinymattresses) November 25, 2019
Was illegally evicted from my last place by having the keys changed whilst I was hospitalised. Place before that threatened to evict up bc a flatmate used a towel as a curtain as they hadn’t provided any at all, they also hadn’t provided enough keys for all tenants. #VentYourRent
— ???????? (@__Serafina__) November 25, 2019
#VentYourRent I’ve lived in my privately owned uni accomodation for 2 months. When I moved in my room was very dirty and missing the safety feature on the window. It should have been a sign of the nightmare this place is. Here is a brief list of why I am desperate to move out: pic.twitter.com/rUkKxs4a2Y
— Hannah (@potadohs) November 25, 2019
— Neenee (@NeeneeNugget) November 25, 2019
Let’s kick things off. ?
— Generation Rent (@genrentuk) November 25, 2019
Had zero opening windows… so no exit if a fire. When they agreed (after much badgering) to put in 3 new ones, they dropped a pane of glass 20 feet to footpath below, thankfully missing pedestrians. Had to have a bit of cardboard over the window for a week.
— Marie Gardiner (@MarieGardiner) November 25, 2019
Electric heaters I can’t afford to switch on, draughty, damp, when it rains I put a bucket on the window sill to collect the drips inside, and a toilet older than dirt .. that leaks too! All this for over a third of my monthly Income, then there’s the utilitybills #VentYourRentpic.twitter.com/4skHmL97rN
— Ruth (@BigPic_Ruth) November 25, 2019
You get the idea.
So it’s probably not surprising that plans to get rid of Section 21 have been described as a “great victory” by renters’ groups.
‘The Conservative Party is no friend of renters’
Anny Cullum a spokesperson for Acorn – which describes itself as a network of low-income people organising for a fairer deal for our communities – told HuffPost UK: “The scrapping of Section 21 or no fault evictions is a great victory for the renters movement and will see millions of people gaining a more security in their homes.
“This has knock-on effects of people feeling able to put down roots in their communities not fearing that they will be forced to move on with two months’ notice, and better financial security for renters who won’t have to find money for deposits on a regular basis.”
But there are other bogeymen lurking, she warned.
″Acorn knows that the Conservative Party is no friend of renters,” said Anny.
“We saw under Theresa May’s consultation about ending section 21 evictions that they were proposing some troubling changes to section 8 [the other type of eviction that can be used against private tenants] that could see harsher legal measures brought in against tenants in rent arrears.
“Acorn is proud to have fought for section 21 to be scrapped, but we are ready to continue to fight for strong and fair legislation for tenants going forward.”
‘Too scared to ask for essential repairs’
Private renting is the most common type of housing for people to be living in when they apply for homelessness support.
Shelter, a leading UK charity that works to end homelessness, welcomed the news.
Chief executive Polly Neate told HuffPost UK: “It’s fantastic the government has committed to legislating the end of ‘no fault’ evictions – something Shelter has long campaigned for. This single change to the law will improve the lives of millions by giving private renters much-needed security and providing more stability right across the housing system.
“Until now, renters have had to live with the constant threat of eviction, too scared to ask for essential repairs or plan for the future. But this nightmare will hopefully end now the government has agreed scrapping section 21 is a top priority. We look forward to working with them to pass this landmark legislation as quickly as possible.”
While the news has been cautiously welcomed by the National Housing Federation, its head of policy James Prestwich told HuffPost UK there’s more work to do yet.
“It’s positive that the government has committed to ending section 21 in the private rented sector, giving greater security to millions of people,” he said.
“This is particularly important for families, who have flooded into the private rented sector in recent years due to a lack of social housing.
“However, private renting is still too expensive for many people on low incomes and we face a huge shortage of affordable homes.
“Alongside ending no fault evictions, funding for new social housing is crucial to ensuring that everyone can access to a safe, secure and affordable home.”