I caught someone from the National Citizens Advice Bureau on BBC Breakfast this morning, commenting on a CAB report on the large number of people in private rented properties in bad condition who are promptly evicted if they complain or do anything about the disrepair.
Anecdotally, I’d certainly support this. We do hear from quite a few private tenants who have received notice or possession orders after raising repairs, or getting an inspection by the local authority environmental health. Often these people have been living in deadful conditions with only silence or worse from the landlord.
As the CAB spokeswoman pointed out, there is little or nothing to stop this happening once the fixed period of an assured shorthold has elapsed. Apparently, Australia has some form of protection from eviction while disrepair issues are underway. I’ll try to find out about this – could be interesting.
As it is, English tenants can only hope that their landlord is dim or greedy, because if the landlord goes the s.21/accelerated possession route, there is nothing they can do to prevent or delay possession if they are out of the fixed period. A separate claim for disrepair is possible, but always tricky when the ex-tenant is out of the property.
If the landlord is greedy, and if there are rent arrears, the tenant may be luckier. A possession claim on the basis of section 8 and/or 11 and 12 – all rent arrears of some form – presents the possibility of a disrepair counterclaim. This will certainly delay possession and, if the damages are enough to wipe out the arrears, put paid to the possession claim. The landlord will have to start afresh with a s.21 procedure, as one can’t run two possession claims side by side or amend the claim to insert grounds that weren’t in the Notice.
We had a case like this some months ago. Greedy or ill-advised landlord (because they were represented) made a s.8 claim for possession, after being served with a works order by the council once the client/tenant got Environmental Health in. The client, luckily, came to us. The rent arrears were substantial, but the disrepair significant. An immediate disrepair counterclaim was served. Of course, the matter then took many months to get to final hearing, and the result was that the damages more than cleared the arrears, possession claim dismissed, and the client had a grand or two over coming in damages and an enforceable order for repairs. We got costs…
But these are the very lucky exceptions. The CAB are calling for tenancy safeguards in these situations. It is, of course, a good idea, but frankly I can’t see any legislation happening soon. Everything will likely be put on hold pending the final report of the Law Commission review of housing law, which will be along in…a bit.