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Bill would ban 'revenge' evictions

Revenge evictions where landlords force out tenants for complaining about the poor condition of their home should be banned in the interests of fairness and decency, a former coalition minister has said.

Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather said retaliatory evictions after tenants legitimately demand repairs are becoming "depressingly familiar" to organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and housing charity Shelter.

Introducing new laws to ban revenge evictions which have Government and cross-party backing, Ms Teather said they would simply help tenants uphold existing rules.

Ms Teather gave an example from her Brent Central constituency where a tenant was evicted for continuing to complain about a collapsed ceiling which wasn't fixed.

Research from the charity Shelter shows that over 60,000 families were threatened with eviction for complaining about the conditions of their homes in the last year.

Opening debate on her Tenancies (Reform) Bill at second reading, Ms Teather said: "They are victims of a small minority of landlords who would rather get rid of tenants than bring their properties up to scratch.

"It is because of stories like these that I am bringing the Tenancies (Reform) Bill to the House today and for which I ask for the House's support.

"No-one should be evicted for asking their landlord to do basic repairs. No-one should be frightened to tell their landlord about a problem for fear of losing their home. No-one should be forced to put up with poor conditions because landlords might retaliate if they make a fuss.

"This is just about fairness and decency. It's about doing the right thing.

"It's about upholding the existing law and it should benefit everybody - tenants, landlords and indeed also local authorities."

Ms Teather assured MPs that the Bill was not designed to skew the rules in favour of tenants and actually contained some measures to make it simpler for a landlord to evict someone who is breaking the law.

She said: "The Bill has been very carefully drafted actually to make sure that spurious complaints for example can't be a reason to frustrate the eviction process.

"In addition to the clauses relating to retaliatory eviction there also also other clauses in the Bill that are about simplifying the process for applying for a Section 21 notice to make it easier for landlords who are operating entirely legitimately to make sure that they comply with the law.

"There are often situations at the moment where a landlord may serve a Section 21 notice and find they have fallen foul of a technicality when they were operating perfectly legitimately.

"The Bill is not all about skewing everything in favour of the tenant - this contains some simplifying elements in the Bill as well."

Ms Teather's proposals are brought forward in a Private Member's Bill, which rarely become law.

However, with Government and cross-party backing it is likely to progress at second reading and potentially beyond.

Ms Teather said the Bill is also supported by charity Shelter, the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Association of Tenancy Relation Officers, the Electrical Safety Council, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and leading mortgage provider Nationwide.

Labour's Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) said the Bill would protect good landlords as well as tenants, adding: "Secure homes make for secure communities, which make for better citizens.

"The word home should mean more than just a roof over your head."

She also pointed out that housing benefit is often being used to pay "disreputable" landlords, who in turn are not paying tax on the income they earn from their properties.

Her colleague, Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), warned there is "social cleansing" going on in central London and its suburbs as people are forced to move away.

He went on: "We need stability in our communities in London and that is best achieved by proper regulation of the private rented sector."

Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) told the House that the risk of homelessness is greater than ever, causing people to live in dreadful conditions for fear of being evicted.

Communities Minister Stephen Williams said the Government would support the Bill as it estimated that 213,000 people including children and partners are affected by revenge eviction every year.

He described the practice by "rogue and unscrupulous" landlords as unacceptable.

The Lib Dem minister said: "There is a need for this Bill and the Government is very clear that retaliatory eviction is wrong and it's continued practice is unacceptable.

"No tenant should face eviction because they have made a legitimate complaint about the condition of their home to their landlord.

"And no decent landlord, these people have been referred to, would engage or condone this practice.

"However there area a number of rogue and unscrupulous landlords who think it is perfectly acceptable to evict a tenant for requesting a repair.

"In a survey of over 4,500 private renters carried out earlier this year by YouGov, an extrapolation from that survey shows that 480,000 tenants had either not asked for a repair to be carried out or have not challenged a rent increase because they were concerned about being evicted.

"80,000 tenants have been evicted because they had asked for a repair to be carried out.

"Many of these tenants will have children and partners so we estimate that about 213,000 people are actually affected by retaliatory eviction every year."

Shadow communities minister Lyn Brown said revenge evictions damage families' lives and create a "climate of fear".

She said Labour would support the Bill.

Mr Brown said: "This kind of unacceptable action can have a really damaging impact on renters.

"It can damage the lives of families and the fabric of communities as people are uprooted from their homes with as little as two months' notice, disrupting schooling, support networks of families and friends and even access to healthcare.

"It means that renters feel unable to complain and are forced to put up with awful conditions."

"The act of retaliatory eviction is completely unacceptable.

"It creates a climate of fear, families are afraid to complain about the mould and damp and even worse because they may lose their home.

"It leads to huge instability as too many that too complain are then served with notice to leave.

"And in effect it encourages poor conditions.

"Unscrupulous landlords take the easy way out - evicting their tenants rather than carrying out needed repairs."

But Conservative Philip Davies (Shipley) spoke out against the Bill which he said was not needed.

According to the 2012/13 English Housing Survey, 84% of private renters were very or fairly satisfied with their accommodation, he said.

In an-hour long speech in the Commons, he described an "in-built bias" in favour of tenants rather than landlords, putting him at odds with most of the other MPs who contributed to the debate.

He also argued that more regulation would aggravate the problem of demand out stripping supply.

And, he added, the idea that landlords can throw people out "willy nilly" at any time was not accurate.

As his speech continued, Mr Davies was accused by Labour's Stephen Pound (Ealing North) of a "pathetic attempt" to talk out the legislation so there would not be time for the House to vote on it.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, also took issue, calling on Mr Davies to stick more specifically to the motion, and deputy speaker Dawn Primarolo warned he was in danger of repeating himself.

But he went on, asking why the Government had suddenly changed its stance on the long-standing issue, which he stressed was not a new problem.

He suggested it was to gain a "few cheap votes" at the general election next year.

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