I often meet people who tell me about the problems they have as tenants in privately owned properties.
Recently, Lyn came to my advice surgery to talk about the difficulties of living in a poorly maintained property. She had moved in during the Autumn of 2012, but by Christmas, had buckets around the flat to catch the rain from leaks in the roof.
She spent a year asking her landlord to carry out works, but nothing happened. Finally, this January, Lyn reported him to the local Council.
His response: serving Lyn a notice to quit her home.
After the first six months of a tenancy, a landlord can evict his or her tenant without having to give any reason for doing so.
This means that it is all too easy for landlords to get rid of tenants who make complaints.
Getting rid of a tenant every six months or so is often much cheaper than fixing any problems in the property.
With really high demand for rented property in my part of Somerset, landlords can easily find new tenants.
As a tenant, there’s no way of knowing whether your landlord is a ‘good ‘un’ or one of the rogues who slip and squirm their way through the housing system. Rogue landlords often become wealthy on taxpayers’ money paid to them through Housing Benefit.
Often, the tenants are the most vulnerable in our society and living in poor quality homes can make people even more vulnerable, as bad living conditions cause health problems, both physical and mental.
The way things are at the moment means the biggest problems end up being faced by those who are already struggling. And that’s not fair.
What is certain is that each year, more than 324,000 tenants suffer ‘retaliatory evictions’ – where the landlord ‘gets the tenant back’ for complaining by serving a notice to quit.
The housing charity, Shelter, found that 12% of private tenants haven’t reported a problem with their housing as they are worried about being evicted if they complain.
Shelter’s figures also show that more than 1.3 million private rented properties do not meet the Government’s ‘Decent Homes’ standard.
This number would be far, far lower if landlords couldn’t dodge repairs by evicting tenants who complain.
One way to make sure homes for rent are brought up to standard would be to stop landlords being allowed to evict tenants for six months after being told by the Council they must improve a property.
Tenants should have the right to appeal an attempt to evict them if a notice to quit was the response to a problem being reported.
And Councils should be able to order landlords to refund rent paid on a home which is below the ‘Decent Homes’ standard.
I’d also like to see a register of landlords held by the Council, so tenants can find information and the history of the landlord of a property they are interested in.
Of course, none of this would stop landlords evicting tenants who break their tenancy agreements
It would simply stop rogue landlords evicting people who have done nothing wrong and just want to live in a decent home.
All of this happens in other places – Australia, New Zealand and at least 39 of the 50 states in the USA. So why can’t we do something to make the system fairer here?
I have asked the Housing Minister to deal with this problem and I hope he will act quickly to improve things for private tenants.
In the meantime, poor Lyn will be moving into another property, exactly the same thing could happen all over again.
Meanwhile another desperate, none-the-wiser tenant will be moving into a leaky flat and only discovering what a mistake that is when the temperature drops, the wind blows and the rain falls.