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Cutting To The Heart of the UK’s Rental Housing Crisis

Ruby Lott-Lavigna

June 24, 2024.

Why were we evicted?

I had to ask the new tenant to find out – and the reason cuts to the heart of the UK’s housing crisis.

The call about my eviction came on a Friday afternoon in February. The estate agent rang me from an unknown number to let me know my housemates and I would need to leave our home. We had only moved in the year before. “Why?” I asked, confused, with a panicky feeling rising in my chest. “The landlord doesn’t have to give a reason,” he said unapologetically and then hung up.

Section 21, or “no-fault”, evictions are one of the cruellest facets of the housing sector, and they’re increasingly common: recent figures show a staggering 52% rise in these evictions in London in the past year. The right to evict a tenant without notice, for no reason, with almost no legal recourse, was introduced in Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Housing Act. It doesn’t matter how long the tenant has lived in their home, or if they’ve always paid rent on time – a landlord can remove them, usually with just a few months’ notice.

The Conservative party promised to ban these evictions and create “a fairer rental market” in its 2019 manifesto. Almost five years on, it has failed to do so. Since the pledge to scrap these evictions, households have been threatened with homelessness at least 80,000 times. After the election was announced, the renters (reform) bill, which had its second reading in the Lords in May, was in effect scrapped, because parliamentary time was cut short before the bill could reach its final stages.

The bill had promised to ban some no-fault evictions. First it was delayed, then it was watered down by backbench Conservative MPs, who tried to defer any section 21 ban and make it easier for landlords to evict tenants for antisocial behaviour, weakening the legislation so much that the Renters’ Reform Coalition, a large group of housing charities, withdrew its support for the bill. Landlord lobbying groups, on the other hand, lauded the 'pragmatic amendments.

Recent data from the Ministry of Justice suggests 11,880 evictions have taken place in London since the first quarter of 2023. The numbers are also growing in the rest of England and Wales, albeit not by quite as much. Yet the actual number of no-fault evictions that landlords have served is likely to be much higher than these numbers suggest, as MoJ data only captures those no-fault evictions that reach court. Most do not – mine didn’t – as most tenants don’t have the energy to engage with a system that almost always will side with landlords, so long as they have served the eviction legally.

In England, there is no limit to how high your landlord can set your rent. Ben Twomey, chief executive of the tenants’ rights group Generation Rent, told me that profiteering may be a factor behind the rise in no-fault evictions, with landlords serving them on tenants who don’t accept huge rent hikes. “Rents on new tenancies have been rising twice as fast as wages over the past couple of years and a lot of landlords are pushing tenants out in order to maximise their rental income,” he said. In London, where the biggest rise in evictions is taking place, rent is more expensive than anywhere else in the UK. It’s unsurprising that some landlords, knowing they could squeeze even more money out of a tenant, decide to evict those who won’t pay.

But it’s not just rent hikes that displace people. Nico, a 43-year-old renter in Hove, East Sussex, has been battling a no-fault eviction for a year. Their landlord, who Nico says owns multiple properties, served a notice of eviction last year. Nico is disabled, not working and, as a result, has struggled to find a new lease, having been on the waiting list for a housing association in Scotland for two years. Their landlord is selling the property – which many would argue is the legitimate right of any property owner – but even so, it shows the inherent problems of relying on private individuals to provide a social necessity.

On the phone, Nico holds back tears. “Sorry,” they say, “I’m trying not to get upset.” At the time of speaking, they had two weeks to leave, teetering on the edge of homelessness. “I feel like I’m being crushed – physically, emotionally, mentally. I feel like I have absolutely no autonomy whatsoever. It is so demoralising and degrading.”

After eight and a half years of living in their flat, Nico has no more security than someone who has lived there for six months. “It doesn’t matter how much of a ‘good’ landlord someone is,” says Nico. “There’s a massive power imbalance and at the end of the day my landlord has the power to completely upend my life, and he has and that’s legally okay. Morally, it’s completely not.”

As a political journalist, I am astounded at how little attention our politicians pay to the reality of renting. But should I be? At least 90 MPs are landlords, and during this election, we’ve already seen the Conservatives’ attempt to woo homeowners, who are more likely to vote. Labour has committed to an immediate ban on section 21 evictions, but the party will need to go further to make the sector fair.

Last week, shadow housing secretary Angela Rayner penned an op-ed for The Telegraph, explaining how Labour would introduce a “first dibs” system to help local “couples” get on the housing ladder. This is hardly an ambitious plan to help renters with cost and security issues right now. Both parties remain fixated on housebuilding – but it takes a long time to build houses. If Labour wins, the party should make sure landlords can’t simply evict tenants by raising the rent, and introduce at least two months’ rent relief for those who are forced to move.

Eventually, I found out why I was evicted. As I was moving my final few boxes and a plant pot of herbs, the new tenant turned up. I told him the story, and asked how much the landlord was now renting the three-bedroom house for. “£3,000,” he told me. A £700-a-month increase on our rent, which we had agreed with our landlord the previous year.

It is a mark of a failing society that these evictions still exist, that Nico is facing homelessness, and that my landlord can evict me to increase the rent by 30%. We live in an economic system where profiting from housing sits in direct conflict with people’s need for shelter. If Labour gets into power, as the polls predict, it needs to tackle this inequity immediately. The cruelty of our housing system needs to end.

Ruby Lott-Lavigna is news and politics reporter at openDemocracy
This article was first published in The Guardian

© Ruby Lott-Lavigna 2024

Kevan James

As one might expect, the article above, having been published by The Guardian, is critical of the Conservatives with regard to the number of the party's MPs being landlords. Such criticism is deserved but there are also Labour MPs who are landlords.

Frankly, that any were allowed to take part in the debate is a scandal - there is clearly a vested interest in this.

One would hope therefore, that whichever party forms the next government, anybody with such an interest will declare that and absent themselves from all and any involvement. And if they won't do so voluntarily, they must be made to.

There is, inevitably, more to it however. Everybody knows there are rogue landlords and such people should be relentlessly driven out of housing. But how much of the abusive rises are solely down to landlords and landlords alone?

Some certainly. But most are because of the naked greed shown by Estate and Letting Agents.

Did you know that there is currently no over-arching regulations in place to curb the activities of agents? Few people do know.

As long as that remains the case, rogue agents will continue to whisper sweet nothings into the ears of landlords, telling them how much more money they can get if they either raise the rent by hundreds of pounds a month or kick out existing tenants and bring the highest bidder.

Its time to drive out, to remove permanently, the agents.

© Kevan James 2024


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