by Ian Narbeth
16:35 PM, 24th May 2023, About 9 months ago 10
The Government is trumpeting that the Renters Reform Bill will help landlords deal with anti-social behaviour. A number of commentators have been taken in by this spin. Ben Beadle of NRLA has said: “We welcome the government’s pledge to ensure landlords can swiftly recover properties from anti-social tenants and those failing to pay their rent.”
When you actually read the draft Bill the legislative change proposed is a tiny mouse of a thing, a molehill, a statutory fart you might call it. It is unlikely to lead to significant additional numbers of anti-social tenants being evicted. Ground 14 of Section 8 is to be amended so that it will include “behaviours ‘capable of causing’ a nuisance or annoyance” as opposed to behaviours ‘likely to cause’ a nuisance or annoyance. Apparently, this means that a wider range of tenant behaviours can be considered in court.
Even then, a Generation Rent spokesperson thinks the change in words: “requires clarification as it is ambiguous and open to abuse”. M’Learned Friends at the Bar may spend time and their clients’ money splitting hairs about whether particular behaviours, whilst capable of causing a nuisance or annoyance, would not be likely to cause the nuisance or annoyance. That misses the point. The alleged anti-social practitioner (let’s call him Viper) must have his day in court and face his accusers. The alleged victim (let’s call him or her Mouse) must give a witness statement and be prepared to be cross-examined. Importantly, Mouse may have to wait months before the case gets to court. By definition Mouse may very likely be living next door to or near to Viper’s home. Mouse may feel intimidated by Viper, his family and friends. Mouse may fear reprisals if the case goes against Viper, or even if it doesn’t. Viper’s landlord can offer no assurances that Viper will be evicted. The landlord and his agent may feel intimidated. Will females, in particular, be willing to visit a property and risk meeting the 18 stone bully they are trying to evict? All the lawyers I talk to say it is almost impossible to evict for anti-social behaviour using Section 8.
By abolishing section 21 the Government will take away the most useful tool a landlord has against anti-social behaviour. Local Authorities are allowed under the Housing Act 2004 to introduce Selective Licensing in order, primarily to help tackle low housing demand and anti-social behaviour. Low housing demand may have been a problem in 2004. It no longer is. Government guidance says “landlords will need adequate support [from local authorities] to help them deal with problem tenants”. As if local authorities were not over-stretched enough already! If landlords’ powers to deal with anti-social behaviour are removed then much of the rationale for introducing selective licensing goes too.
Yet again, despite taking months to come up with the Bill the Government’s thinking is shown to be very far from joined up. In consequence the rights of the weak and vulnerable must yield to those of the bully. The mice had better watch their backs as they face the vipers on their own. Instead they may leave and hope to find a safer home elsewhere.