Opinion: ‘No-fault evictions’ must be scrapped

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq is fighting for private residents rights.

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq is fighting for private residents rights. - Credit: Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons

The private rented sector has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Around five million people in the UK now rent privately, up from 2.8 million in 2007.

And, in Hampstead and Kilburn, private renters account for over 30 per cent of the population. Yet the private rented sector has the worst housing conditions of any tenure, and tenants have very few enforceable rights to change this.

Last Tuesday, I led a housing debate in parliament to talk specifically about the issues facing private renters. Ever since I was elected, I have heard so many heart-breaking stories about appalling conditions in private housing and the disgraceful way that some tenants are treated. So, ahead of the debate, I reached out to the thousands of local people who receive my newsletter to hear about their experiences of the private rented sector and get ideas for how we can fix it.

I was both pleased to get so many insightful responses from constituents and sad to hear so many examples of how badly the current system is failing private renters. We know that one in four privately rented homes are classed as ‘non-decent’. That means an estimated 680,000 children living in housing that is either damp, dangerous or lacking basic facilities. This is a shocking state of affairs, and the government should be doing much more to improve conditions in this sector.

There are undoubtedly good landlords who take care of their properties and respect their tenants. Indeed, one of the most thoughtful responses I received was from a landlord who keeps rent low and wants to see sweeping reforms to the private rented sector to strengthen tenants’ rights. Unfortunately, however, far too many landlords exploit the lack of protections for tenants to avoid their responsibilities.

Private tenants do have some options. They can contact the council, which will have enforcement powers. However, the Conservative government’s cuts to local authority budgets over the last 10 years has decimated many councils’ ability to enforce housing standards. Thanks to my constituency neighbour Karen Buck MP, who pushed the homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) bill through parliament in 2019, renters can also take their landlord to court if their housing is not up to standard.

However, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 is the Sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of all private renters. It means that landlords can evict a tenant at any point with just two months’ notice in most cases. As someone who runs a soup kitchen in my constituency pointed out, many of the private tenants they serve “suffer ill health from living in damp rooms” yet are “fearful to report their landlord”. That’s because they know that, if they do, they can and likely will be evicted long before any local authority enforcement or legal action takes place. It is this same fear of ‘no-fault eviction’ that stops tenants enforcing their right to challenge unfair rent rises.

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So we must scrap Section 21 and all mechanisms for ‘no-fault evictions’ as a matter of urgency. The Tories promised to do this almost a year ago, but they’ve done nothing since. We must also look at other ways of improving the private rented sector, including better standards, properly funded enforcement, longer tenancies, a register of private landlords and rent controls.