Fergus Wilson Panorama documentary – now available on iPlayer22:10 PM, 18th March 2019
About 23 hours ago 75
This week landlords watched with trepidation as the BBC presented a so-called Panorama investigation into the use of Section 21 notices in the private rented sector.
The inauspicious title: ‘Evicted for no reason,’ warned us that we should expect the usual bias and inaccuracy as Section 21 notices are not served for no reason. That would just be stupid.
So the first inaccuracy was to repeatedly refer to Section 21 as a ‘no-fault eviction.’ This is a made-up term with no legal or actual validity, promoted by anti-landlord ‘homelessness’ charity Shelter and its new little brother, Generation Rent, whose entire existence seem to be premised on attacking us as housing providers and whose latest campaign is focused on trying to stop landlords from regaining possession of their property.
In fact, Section 21 permits a landlord to serve notice without writing down a reason (indeed there is no space on the forms to give a reason). This absolutely does not mean there is no fault. The facts are that 93% of tenancy terminations are initiated by the tenant and of the 7% remaining, these are largely caused by tenant behaviour – notably failure to pay the rent and/or damaging property. It is very expensive for landlords to get rid of rogue tenants whatever legal route they choose; Section 21 is just marginally less bad than, for example, Section 8.
Bias is also evident in the huge omission in the programme of not even mentioning the existence of eviction from the social sector. According to Government data, there are a huge number of people evicted from social housing. The reasons will also be comparable – for rent arrears and damages and so on, but the social sector has to use a different legal procedure. Why would the programme completely miss out this factor? Why would it only focus on private landlords? Why should private landlords be stopped from evicting rogue tenants, but Housing Associations and councils be allowed to? The answer is that, even after Grenfell, it is ideologically unacceptable for the ‘left’ to attack social housing, but it is par for the course to constantly target private landlords.
Further intrinsic bias was apparent in the amount of time given to tenants in comparison to landlords and their representatives in the programme. However, we were glad to hear the contributions from Paul Shamplina and his colleagues who made some excellent points.
Bias was also apparent in the way that the reporter, Richard Bilton, allowed the tenants to make statements about their landlords with scarcely any corroboration at all.
So, tenant Laura McGlasham and her family were profiled, and were euphemistically said to have, ‘fallen out with their landlord.’ Laura then states that the bailiffs are going to be turning up the next day. As an experienced landlord I know that this means that Laura has not left on the date that the judge would have ordered her to leave, but instead has forced her landlord to accommodate her and her family for even longer and pay for expensive court action and bailiffs.
She then declared that the landlord wanted to increase the rent by £400. This is highly unusual so why did the journalist not probe into this further? Firstly, it would imply to me that Laura had probably been paying a very low rent and not had it increased to market levels over recent years. Secondly, I would assume the landlord was having to make such drastic increases because of the Government’s war on landlords and the introduction of tax on fictitious profit. Further, if the landlord did manage to obtain rent at £400pm more than Laura was paying, from another person, then that indicates that the landlord is now simply asking for the going rate. But instead the landlord, whom we do not see or hear from, was depicted in effect as some evil, money-grabbing tyrant who has made her homeless for no reason.
Bilton then went on to talk about revenge evictions and used the example of beautician, Julie – who stated that that she complained to her landlord and ‘now she’s out.’ It is stated that she lived in the house in rural Worcestershire for 4 years and always paid her rent. Bilton did not corroborate this at all! There was no evidence that he examined her bank accounts and tenancy agreement to prove that she was telling the truth. She was allowed to make accusations about her landlord with no evidence presented either by the tenant or landlord. The idea that she was given her notice purely because she complained about a leaky shower doesn’t ring true at all. It was then stated that she was offered a new lease but didn’t sign it so was given an eviction notice 3 months later. Why didn’t she sign the lease? (as they seemed to call it) Presumably if she had, she would have been able to stay. This story makes no sense to me and doesn’t resonate with my experience or anything I’ve heard during 20 years as a landlord.
‘I’ve worked hard and spent nearly £40,000 to live here and I’ve got nothing for it,’ she states. This is not challenged. In fact, what she’s ‘got’ for it is 4 years of accommodation for herself and her family, with someone else covering the property costs within the rent she paid. The implication here is that the landlord would just pocket this amount, when landlords have mortgages to pay, maintenance costs, insurance costs and so on and have tied up their own money to provide housing. ‘I’ve paid a quarter of the mortgage off on this house,’ she adds. She’s been listening too much to Shelter propaganda as this is very reminiscent of Campbell Robb’s claim two years ago that when tenants pay £40,000 over 5 years, they have effectively handed over a deposit on a house of their own >> https://www.property118.com/campbell-robb-supporting-tenant-tax/ Where would they live in the meantime? Does he expect private individuals to provide housing for strangers for free? The Salvation Army don’t even do that. It is people’s own choice to rent instead of buying. It is not landlords’ fault that some people do not have the deposit or meet the criteria to purchase their own home.
‘But the private rental market can be precarious for landlords too. Bad tenants can quickly cost you thousands.’ Whilst it was nice that they showed a landlord, Frances Carpenter, who works as a cleaner and rents out two properties and who sported a pink Mohican (combating stereotypes about loaded old men being typical landlords), it would have been more representative and even-handed to profile 4 landlords alongside the 4 profiled tenants, and show the extreme financial loss and stress experienced very often by landlords – and not choose someone who was facing fairly trivial tenant problems.
The case of Frances, however, did show that landlords do not quickly gain possession in reality as five months into the eviction legal complications meant that she was still no closer to getting possession through the ‘simple’ Section 21 eviction. In fact, obstacles have been flung into the way on a regular basis – such as requirements about deposits, Energy Performance Certificates, gas safety certificates, prescribed information and so on – all of which can make Section 21 notices invalid. Section 21 does not work for landlords as it is already extremely costly and complicated. According to those who oppose it, they want the process made even more difficult.
Bilton then said that evictions are costly for landlords, but also for tenants, with the average cost of a move being £1,400. However, if the tenant has not paid the rent for 6-12 months, as is often the case, then the cost of moving is more than recouped by the savings made by not paying rent for these long periods. The journalist obviously didn’t think of this. And this is of course a problem with journalists who go from reporting on one issue to the next. They have very limited knowledge and only scratch the surface, not asking the right questions or gathering proof to back up their claims or the statements made by their biased group of informants.
He then states: ‘The most common cause of homelessness is being evicted by a private landlord.” My heart sank when I heard this nonsense, perpetuated by Shelter, being repeated again. It doesn’t matter how many times a lie is said; it is still a lie. Causes of homelessness are hugely varied and many factors could have caused any one case of homelessness. These include:
All of these factors can lead to the person not paying the rent. So it is the ‘not paying the rent’ – that is ‘tenant behaviour’ – which is one of the main ‘causes’ of homelessness. If an employee steals from their employer, then it is not the loss of a job which has caused them to be unemployed (tautological nonsense) and it is not the employer’s fault for sacking a thief. It is the person’s own behaviour. Housing providers provide housing; they do not cause homelessness.
Once again, why is there no statement about the social sector ‘causing homelessness’ when they evict rogue tenants? The accusation is bizarre, whomever it is leveled at. Private landlords alleviate homelessness by providing housing, just as social landlords do.
It added insult to injury to then have a Shelter employee on the programme examining a foul mattress in the B&B Laura is allocated, as Shelter has supported and waged its own war on landlords for many years, which is forcing landlords to have to increase rents, as allegedly occurred in the case of Laura. Her kids are now ‘missing school as it’s an hour and a half away.’ We predicted all of this -as can be seen in my report >> Click Here The Government and Shelter have caused this problem and then use it to have another go at private landlords.
‘Ava’ is then profiled as someone who had been evicted twice, apparently. Why was this not explained? No questions were asked and no reasons given. She had been a foster carer and had to give it up because she now didn’t have a proper home. I smell a rat here. The payments for fostering are high and should mean that she was well able to afford a private rental.
We then get told: ‘Rents are so high in some parts of the country that people on average wages are being priced out.’
In fact, rents have not kept up with inflation and have lagged about 4% behind it over recent years.
Moreover, surely a basic requirement of an investigative journalist was to obtain evidence from all of these tenants and their landlords that the rent was up-to-date? It is always the same with these ‘reports.’ Tenants’ statements are taken at face value as though butter would never melt in any of their mouths. How is this good journalism?
‘So the system is not working for thousands of landlords and tenants.’ Uh, it’s not working for landlords as we are supposed to be able to regain possession two months after serving notice but in reality, have to wait for court action to run its course and often, if not mostly, in such situations the tenants are no longer paying the rent. We need quicker evictions! So we are not of the same mindset as ‘charities’ who want to restrict our rights to regain possession.
The Scottish ‘experiment’ of abolishing Section 21s is then presented as a positive move. I hope that Scottish landlords can put the record straight below this article as I believe most see this as a hugely retrograde step. Section 21s were originally brought in to encourage more people to let out houses to relieve the housing shortage. This worked. Reversing this is likely to put the breaks on landlords providing housing and cause many to leave the market. How is limiting rental supply going to be good for tenants?
The underlying premise of the programme was that Section 21s should be abolished. In addition to this being very bad news for supply, choice and for rent levels, if they were, how would this tie in with lenders’ requirements to not issue tenancies longer than 12 months? Whilst some lenders have indicated they may get rid of these clauses, others won’t and landlords would be in breach of their lenders’ conditions if they gave indefinite tenancies.
These programmes don’t explore complexity. They use the framework of mostly uncorroborated sob stories of a few individual tenants, using these few cases to call for national legal changes which are in nobody’s interests and will lead to misery and more homelessness.
Apparently, Richard Bilton gave a lecture to students at York where he talked about ‘the importance of unbiased and balanced reporting.’
I would suggest that he learns to practise what he preaches.
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