THE BLOG

Tenants Must Be Protected From Wrongful Evictions

07/03/2016 16:29 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

The Lib Dems have a good track record on fighting for tenants against wrongful evictions. Sarah Teather successfully pushed for legal protections against 'revenge evictions' when we were in Government, to stop tenants losing their home if they asked for safety repairs to be done.

We got that law passed despite determined attempts from Tory backbenchers to keep the power firmly in the hands of landlords.

Now there is another opportunity to protect tenants. The Government is attempting to give landlords the power to evict tenants on the basis that they have 'abandoned' the property, if they have not paid rent for eight weeks or responded to three notices. If those conditions are met, the landlord could reclaim possession within 12 weeks.

This change could be exploited by unscrupulous landlords with vulnerable tenants who will be in danger of becoming homeless, as the charity Shelter has been arguing. Landlords could use the abandonment procedure as a pretence to carry out illegal evictions, being able to start the process for eviction after just four weeks of rent arrears.

Or it may lead to unintentional evictions, where someone is taken ill or suddenly called away to care for a relative and is unable to respond to notices.

If that person pays their rent in cash or their housing payment benefit payment is disrupted, they could easily get into arrears while they are away and could be mistakenly assumed to have abandoned their property.

Perhaps the worst element is that this particular type of eviction will be taken out of the county court process, and so will lack any oversight. The Government say a landlord must put a final note to the tenant in a "conspicuous" place. But no-one will check whether a landlord has done that.

In a small number of cases, landlords may find their home abandoned and wish to reclaim it so they can let it out to someone else. But the percentage of private renting households this relates to, according to their own figures, is just 0.04%, just 1,750 tenancies out of 4.4 million. Existing laws already work, Sections 8 and 21 and something called "implied surrender". This new measure is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

This new change on abandonment goes against the flow of other parts of the Housing and Planning Bill which strengthen protections from rogue landlords. The abandonment section of the bill is clearly designed as a sweetener to landlords, reducing protection of the most vulnerable tenants, and it should go.

Our strong team of Lib Dems fighting the Bill in the Lords will continue to put pressure on the Government to do this. With homelessness rising at an alarming rate, more unnecessary evictions are the last thing we need.

Baroness Grender is a Liberal Democrat peer