There was an interesting debate in the House of Commons this week during the Second Reading of the Renters (Reform) Bill. This proposes a ban on “no-fault” evictions. No doubt the sentiment behind it is popular. Why should tenants who are not at fault be thrown out? Some people (known as Conservatives) who believe in private property rights and the freedom of contract still object to this legislation on principle. Such unfashionable notions can easily be brushed aside. A greater challenge for the Government is the practical difficulties that may be expected.
Sir Edward Leigh said:
“No-fault evictions are in some sense a legal fiction. Evicting a tenant for fault is a complex process and the burden is on the landlord to prove a breach of tenancy, arrears of rent, nuisance or antisocial behaviour, criminal activity or substantial disrepair. Depending on the tenancy, the notice period could be as short as two weeks or as long as several months. Notice procedures are highly regulated and must observe the prescribed format. Failure to observe this down to the letter of the law can render a notice invalid, delaying eviction. If the premises are not vacated, it is up to the landlord to initiate costly legal proceedings.”
Suppose a conscientious landlord is told that their tenant is a “neighbour from Hell.” Several people complain but the witnesses are reluctant to give evidence in court. At present the “no-fault” option is available. The simple assertion of property rights and the contracted notice period is enough. No longer. The Government claims other changes, in some other clause, will make it easier to evict for anti-social behaviour overall. I doubt it. It’s the smaller landlords with one or two properties who are most likely to sell up. The larger landlords, often living far away, will be more inclined to shrug off complaints about their tenants – provided the rent is paid (usually courtesy of the taxpayer.) Also as good landlords quit and the shortage of accommodation increases the “informal” sector – “sheds in beds” – operating outside the law will doubtless grow. The growth of illegal immigration is an added ingredient.
Still. At least the official message from the state to landlords is that they should evict for anti-social behaviour. But what of the state’s record as a landlord? I have been making some inquiries
Let us start with a positive news item. In August Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, tweeted in praise of the following success story from Lincoln:
“A street in a residential area of Lincoln has been “reclaimed” by its community after five problem households responsible for anti-social behaviour, violent disorder, and drug dealing were removed thanks to local police and housing officers.
“In just 12 months, the households in question had been responsible for 123 calls for service to the police.
“Incidents varied from low-level anti-social behaviour such as noise complaints and intimidating behaviour from youths and adults, to drug dealing, and violent disorder with weapons….
“Officers used the policing powers called a Section 8 notice, which provide a public warning through a poster displayed at the property that it is being monitored and illegal activity will not be tolerated. These notices also give police and housing more powers to deal with problematic properties linked with drugs. This was used alongside an abandonment notice from the council. Within a few weeks, the property was secured and the tenant formally evicted, and since then, there have been no further calls to this location.”
The police couldn’t have done it alone. They also needed the housing officers of Lincoln Council to take action.
The difficulty is that such action is very much the exception. Research I have undertaken via Freedom of Information requests shows that councils are generally very soft on anti social behaviour. There are lots of incidents of it happening by council tenants but scarcely any evictions. Sandwell Council saw 7,501 incidents last year and just one eviction. Falkirk 6,680 incidents and two evictions. Aberdeen 3,017 incidents and no evictions. Wolverhampton 2,495 incidents and four evictions. Bristol 2,136 incidents and four evictions. Sheffield 2,095 incidents and four evictions. Ealing 1,606 incidents and four evictions. Swansea. 1,548 incidents and no evictions. Leeds 1,505 incidents and one eviction. Leicester 1,123 incidents and no evictions. The full list is below (though some councils didn’t even bother to keep a record.) But you get the idea.
Often it’s repeat offenders. These councils talk about “zero tolerance” and have tenancy agreements saying evictions will happen. For example, the Tenancy Agreement from Sandwell Council states:
“If you do not keep to your tenancy agreement, we may take action against you which could include ending your tenancy. Please be aware that if we repossess your property due to antisocial behaviour, this could lead not only to you losing your tenancy but also us refusing to house you in the future.”
It goes on:
“You, people living with you and any visitors to your property (including children) must not engage in conduct causing or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or a nuisance or annoyance, to other tenants, residents, their families, lodgers, visitors or any other person engaged in a lawful activity in the locality or neighbourhood of your property.”
It gives a long list of examples to avoid any misunderstandings. Yet the reality last year was that 7,501 incidents were recorded of this tenancy agreement being broken. But there was only one eviction. What a pathetic farce.
What can be done about it? The democratic mechanism is there to elect councillors who will insist that housing officers take a more robust approach. Perhaps commissioning an independent agencies if necessary. But in serious cases, there should be some mechanism for a request from the police for eviction proceedings to have some power. For instance, that when such requests are routinely ignored the Council’s housing department is put in special measures.
Eviction could offer a strong deterrent against anti-social behaviour. But too often the “neighbours from Hell” know the chances of it being applied are tiny. These odds could and should be dramatically changed. Keep in mind that there are plenty of families in overcrowded “temporary” hostel placements who would be pleased to swap places with those in council housing.
Incidentally, I understand the sympathy towards some of the culprits as well as the victims. The perpetrators will often be drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill. But that does not mean they should be allowed to continue living where they are and causing misery for those around them. They should be placed in specialist accommodation – for their sake as well as for others.
Anyway, here is the list. You can see if your Council is doing badly, very badly or atrociously.
Sandwell 7,501 incidents. 1 eviction.
Falkirk 6,680 incidents. 2 evictions.
Birmingham 3,549. 17 evictions.
Aberdeen 3,017 incidents. 0 evictions.
Wolverhampton 2,495 incidents. 4 evictions.
Bristol 2,136 incidents. 4 evictions
Sheffield 2,095 incidents. 4 evictions.
Ealing 1,606 incidents. 4 evictions.
Swansea. 1,548 incidents. 0 evictions.
Leeds 1,505 incidents. 1 eviction.
Leicester 1,123 incidents. 0 evictions.
East Lothian 1,081 incidents. Evictions 0.
Gateshead 1,026 incidents. 4 evictions.
Charnwood 981 incidents. 2 evictions.
Portsmouth 978 incidents. 1 eviction.
Lambeth. 962 incidents. 8 evictions.
Hull. 943 incidents. 3 evictions.
West Lothian 835 incidents. 0 evictions.
Hounslow 789 incidents. 5 evictions.
Kirklees 785 incidents. 4 evictions.
Caerphilly 770 incidents. 1 eviction.
South Lanarkshire 764 incidents. 12 evictions.
North Ayrshire 738 incidents. 1 eviction.
Southampton 677 incidents. 1 eviction.
Brighton and Hove 657 incidents. 1 eviction.
Oxford 643 incidents. 0 eviction.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. 639 incidents. 4 evictions.
Solihull 621 incidents. 3 evictions.
Wigan 594 incidents. 0 evictions.
Luton 584 incidents. 3 evictions.
Thurrock 540 incidents. 2 Evictions.
Angus 538 incidents. 0 evictions.
Somerset. 535 incidents. 3 evictions.
Norwich 502 incidents. 2 evictions.
Westminster 476 incidents. 1 eviction.
Darlington 444 incidents. 8 evictions.
East Devon 416 incidents. 1 eviction.
Crawley 411 incidents. 3 evictions.
Nuneaton and Bedworth. 414 incidents. 7 evictions.
Denbighshire 408 incidents. 0 evictions.
Stirling 408 incidents. 3 evictions.
Renfrewshire 398 incidents. 1 eviction.
Greenwich 359 incidents. 1 eviction.
Dover 304 incidents. 1 eviction.
North Yorkshire 296 incidents. 2 evictions.
East Ayrshire 289 incidents. 1 eviction.
Sutton 271 incidents. 2 evictions.
Newark and Sherwood 257 incidents. 3 evictions.
Enfield 256 incidents. 1 eviction.
Lancaster 241 incidents. 0 evictions.
Powys 234 incidents. 1 eviction.
Stroud 217 incidents. 1 eviction.
West Lancashire 209 incidents. 0 evictions.
North Northamptonshire 191 incidents. 0 evictions.
Epping Forest 173 incidents. 0 evictions.
Reading 170 incidents. 0 evictions.
Wiltshire 163 incidents. 2 evictions.
Thanet 154 incidents. 3 evictions.
Central Bedfordshire. 152 incidents. 0 evictions.
Wokingham 149 incidents. 0 evictions.
Harrow 132 incidents. 3 evictions.
Highland. 131 incidents. 0 evictions.
New Forest 133 incidents. 0 evictions.
South Kesteven 130 incidents. 2 evictions.
East Dunbartonshire 119 incidents. 0 Evictions.
Medway 114 incidents. 1 eviction.
Warwick 110 incidents. 1 eviction.
Woking. 110 incidents. 0 evictions.
High Peak. 93 incidents. 0 evictions.
Redbridge 90 incidents. 0 evictions.
Slough 88 incidents . 0 evictions.
Great Yarmouth 78 incidents. 3 evictions.
Oadby and Wigston. 65 incidents. 0 evictions.
Wealden 59 incidents. 0 evictions.
Barnet 48 incidents. 0 evictions.
Ashford 43 incidents. 0 evictions.
Mid Devon 42 incidents. 0 evictions.