A government amendment due to be debated on Wednesday has major implications for how agents deal with repair requests and how private landlords can take possession of their properties.
The proposed ‘retaliatory eviction’ amendment to the Deregulation Bill would extend existing restrictions on a landlord’s powers to evict where they do not protect a deposit or have a licence where required, to alleged health and safety hazards.
The change could mean a six-month delay on serving a Section 21 notice where a tenant had complained in writing about the state of a property.
There are concerns that some savvy tenants could play the system by making repeated complaints, and that the new regime could give a green light to ambulance chasing firms.
One critic told Eye that if the proposals get through, there would be a “lawyers’ paradise”.
Managing agents are also warned that if the amendment succeeds, as seems highly likely, there are huge implications for the way they respond to repair requests.
Under the amendment, the landlord – or presumably the agent – would have to respond “adequately” to the complaint within 14 days.
It not, the tenant could complain to the local council, which could in turn serve a “relevant” notice on the landlord.
In these circumstances, a court would have to strike out proceedings for possession under the Section 21 procedure.
A relevant notice would requirement improvements to category one and two hazards, and to hazards requiring emergency remedial action.
Communities minister Stephen Williams said that the measure was being introduced “so tenants don’t face the prospect of losing their home simply for asking that repairs be made”.
However, critics have raised concerns that some savvy tenants could play the system by making repeated complaints, and that the new regime could give a green light to ambulance chasing firms.
The amendment has surfaced after a Private Member’s Bill from Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather, proposing a similar regime, was “talked out” in December by two Tory MPs, both also landlords.
Rajeev Nayyar, of repairs reporting firm Fixflo, told Eye: “If passed, this amendment will have far-reaching consequences for agencies across the UK.
“Property managers will need to provide details of their proposed remedial action and expected time-frame for remediation within 14 days of receiving a written repair request.
“That said, those agencies that get ahead and have or build strong internal repair management processes will be well placed to win instructions as landlords who self-manage look for an alternative in light of the increased compliance burden.”
Meanwhile, landlord bodies have reacted with concern to the new government move.
The National Landlords Association’s head of policy, Chris Norris, hit out angrily, saying: “We have yet to see any credible evidence of a problem significant to justify the need for additional legislation and we strongly believe that the changes announced today represent a politically timed reaction to fear and anecdote, rather than a confirmation of commonplace poor practice within private housing.
“The Government says that the majority of good landlords will have nothing to fear, but the truth is it will give unscrupulous tenants and ambulance-chasing legal firms more power to resist genuine and necessary attempts on behalf of landlords to regain lawful possession on a property.”
Alan Ward, chairman of the Residential Landlords Association, said: “We have always been vehemently opposed to any landlord who commits a retaliatory eviction.
“But we believe this latest proposal is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, with very little evidence to suggest that there is a widespread problem.”
The Bill is now in the Lords, which is due to debate the amendment, before its third reading in the Commons.
Unlike the Teather Bill, it is unlikely that two Tory MPs would try and talk out a government amendment.