The Welsh Government is to try and change the law so that tenants, soon to be called ‘contract-holders’, cannot be evicted simply for asking their landlord to carry out repairs.
Imagine this scenario. You’ve been the perfect tenant. You’ve always paid your rent on time. Your flat is cleaner now than when you moved in. The only problem is the boiler. It’s been playing up for months now. The landlord did finally send a plumber over to fix it last week but it’s broken again. Now you’ve come home from work to find a ‘to-let’ sign up outside the property and a letter from your landlord giving you two months’ notice to leave.
Does that scenario ring any bells with you? Well, housing advisers would suspect this a retaliatory or revenge eviction – a private landlord trying to avoid their legal obligation to carry out repairs by evicting their tenant. It’s not something most landlords would ever consider doing. That’s why their representatives like the National Landlords Association condemn this type of behaviour.
But how common is retaliatory eviction? Research by Shelter Cymru and Consumer Focus Wales found some evidence of it happening in Wales, but it’s difficult to know exactly how widespread the problem is. Landlords aren’t breaking any law by giving notice in the scenario I’ve outlined, but neither does the law provide any defence to the tenant facing eviction in those circumstances. Many people think this is unfair to tenants. It also means the next occupier will be moving into a property that already has problems.
Although it didn’t become law, late last year there was an attempt by a backbench MP to protect tenants in England from retaliatory eviction through the Tenancies (Reform) Bill. That Bill isn’t entirely dead though. Just last week the government tabled an amendment to the Deregulation Bill to achieve substantially the same outcome, so it seems likely that tenants in England will soon have protection from the minority of landlords who carry out retaliatory evictions. This amendment has met with some strong opposition from landlords’ representatives.
The Welsh Government has now included a clause in its own Renting Homes Bill, published this week, which it hopes will protect tenants in Wales from retaliatory evictions. If approved by the Assembly, the new law will allow judges to consider whether the landlord is evicting the tenant simply to avoid complying with their obligations to keep the property in a decent condition. If it is genuinely a retaliatory eviction, the court will be able to refuse to make an order for possession.
Many housing advisors believe that this change in the law will act as a deterrent to bad landlords and encourage more people to come forward to report poor living conditions, without the fear they will be made homeless as a consequence of speaking up for their rights.
Groups representing tenants and landlords in Wales will now have a chance to respond to this proposal, along with the rest of the Renting Homes Bill, as the Assembly starts to scrutinise it. It will be for Assembly Members to listen to the evidence and decide whether this particular proposal should become law.
The Assembly will start a public consultation on the Renting Homes Bill this week and begin taking oral evidence from witnesses towards the end of March. You can find details of the consultation here.
Article by Jonathan Baxter, National Assembly for Wales Research Service.