On 1st October, Part 3 of the ironically-named Deregulation Act 2015 came into force, bringing with it a range of new rules and controls in relation to private lettings in England specifically. The new measures include an updated prescribed form of Section 21 Notice (i.e. Notice to Quit) which landlords must serve upon tenants in order to recover possession of their properties. The Deregulation Act also places new restrictions on precisely when landlords will be able to serve the Notice. As a result, landlords will now be unable to serve a Section 21 Notice within the first four months of any new tenancies which start on or after 1st October. The existing rules regarding the protection of tenancy deposits have also been tightened, with the new Act making clear that landlord’s agents, as well as landlords, are liable for placing deposits into protection schemes and for the legal consequences of failing to do so.
The most controversial part of the new rules, however, isprobablycontained within Section 33 of the Act, entitled “Preventing Retaliatory Eviction”. This section is ostensibly a response to the seemingly growing problem posed by “rogue landlords”, who, as covered by several media outlets earlier this year, are happy to simply kick tenants out of their rented accommodation by serving notices to quit (or other notices) where they have received complaints or notices from the tenants about the state or condition of the accommodation. To this effect, Section 33 states that, where a tenant has given such a notice or complaint, a landlord will not be able to serve a Section 21 Notice upon them within six months of the date on which the tenant made the complaint or gave the notice. Section 33 also states that any Section 21 Notice served will be invalid where the landlord had failed to adequately deal with a complaint made by the tenant within 14 days of the complaint being made, or where the landlord served the notice after receiving the complaint.
On the face of it, these new measures will surely bring some comfort to the growing pool of private tenants in England who are faced with a housing market which shows no signs of letting up. An environment in which the demand for housing stock dramatically outstrips the current supply in the UK has led to a “seller’s market”, where some landlords feel that they are able to threaten a tenant with eviction simply because they will be able to find a new tenant very quickly. In addition, the existing legal duty upon landlords to ensure that their properties are “suitable for human habitation” has clearly failed as a deterrent in this respect. The fact that landlords are now barred from serving a Section 21 Notice within six months of receiving complaints or notices will, it is hoped, encourage landlords to deal constructively with these problems rather than simply eject a tenant. The changes made to the protection of tenancy deposits will also be welcome given that long-term renting, as is the norm in Germany and other parts of Europe, is becoming increasingly common in England.
On the other hand, landlords may feel that the new rules simply create fresh hurdles in dealing effectively with ‘problem’ tenants within a legal framework which was already weighted in favour of renters. Landlords were already unable, for example, to serve a Section 21 Notice which expired within six months of the start of a tenancy. The fact that landlords must now wait for four months to serve a Section 21 Notice is likely to prevent a ‘clean break’ of short term tenancies of around six months, with tenants being able to stay on past the expiry date of the tenancy. Further, landlords have already faced the prospect of hefty fines for failing to protect tenancy deposits since the introduction of the Housing Act 2004. Finally, and so far as the new rules regarding “retaliatory eviction” are concerned, these may pose a real issue for landlords in that a Section 21 Notice served following the receipt of a complaint by the landlord does not appear to have to be related to the complaint in order to be made invalid. This is clearly a flaw in the drafting of the new rules and may well prevent landlords from serving Notices for otherwise legitimate reasons.
In any case, the new rules are, of course, yet to be tested, and the housing industry will certainly be looking closely at any legal developments made by future court cases in this area.
A more nuanced argument may be to say that the problem, for tenants at least, is not that adequate measures did not exist to protect them in these situations, but rather that access to these measures is restricted. In order to actually make use of any of the new (or, indeed, old) protections afforded to them, tenants will need to go to court to claim against their landlords. This will often mean considerable costs for tenants and, given that the government continues to mull further rises in court fees, may not be a realistic option for many. In order to offer complete and functional protection for tenants, it is surely this issue which will require attention in future.
If you have any questions regarding renting, or landlord and tenant issues in general, please do not hesitate to call Freemans Solicitors on 020 7935 3522.