As most people know, landlords have a legal duty to ensure that any property they let is fit to be lived in and that the property remains in good repair.
The landlord’s responsibilities extend to repairing the structure or exterior of a property and this includes, for example, a leaking roof, damp, subsidence, rotten woodwork, leaking windows, defective drains etc. It is also the landlord’s responsibility by law to keep all heating and hot water facilities in good repair.
Once a tenancy begins, it is the tenant’s responsibility to bring issues about disrepair to the landlord’s attention so that they can take action. Once the landlord has been told about any disrepair they must carry out the repairs within a reasonable time. If the landlord does not carry out repairs within a reasonable time, then the tenant may have the right to carry out the repairs themselves and deduct the costs from future rent payments. Tenants should, however, notify landlords before they do this to give the landlord a reasonable time to carry out the work and provide three estimates for the cost of the work to be done and send those copies to the landlord. If the disrepair is so bad as to make it difficult to live in the property, it is possible to apply to the court for an order requiring the landlord to carry out repairs and for compensation.
So far, so good.
The difficulty is, that in practice, if tenants complain about disrepair or poor conditions, many private landlords may try to evict the tenant rather than do the work. This is what is known in the trade as a retaliatory eviction. Landlords can evict any tenant after the end of any fixed term and they do not have to give a reason for doing so. All they have to do is give two months’ notice and ensure that they have protected the tenant’s deposit in a Deposit Scheme. Even if a tenant has commenced court proceedings, an Eviction Order will be obtained well within six months and few disrepair claims will have progressed very far by that time. A tenant will find that they have been evicted from the property by the time the case comes to trial. The likelihood is that most tenants will have lost interest by that point.
I am not for one moment suggesting that most landlords will behave like this, but it certainly is the case that some landlords will brand the tenants as troublemakers and evict them.
The problem is that the law as it now stands provides very little security of tenure to good tenants who pay their rent on time. Most Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST) are granted for only six months. Landlords may renew the agreement for a further six months at their discretion. Many landlords do not renew the fixed-term agreement at all and instead the tenant stays on at the property on what is known as a month-to-month periodic tenancy. This may continue on this basis for years. Tenants know that the landlord can serve a two-month eviction notice at any time.
This problem cannot be resolved without a stronger form of security of tenure. The law must be changed to make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants when they have not been at fault.
A good start would be to provide that the minimum term for an AST should be one year, rather than six months. Without this change the incentive remains for the landlord simply to evict the tenants who cause problems. They can get in another tenant, who may even be prepared to pay an increased rent, and the cycle continues.