It’s very difficult to write on the subject of landlords evicting families for no good reason. It’s equally difficult to remain objective when landlords evict families simply because they complain about the risk of an electrical fitting which has not been wired correctly, posing a significant hazard to tenants that very often include young children.
One has to try and remain emotionless for a moment when dealing with the often used derogatory term, ‘slum landlords’.
The fact of the matter is that in most situations there is always going to be a Scrooge-type person whose sole priority is to make money, no matter the cost to others. I suppose when looking at this objectively it is part of human nature. However, that doesn’t make their actions any less despicable.
We are without question facing a housing crisis. The UK is for a number of reasons a highly sought-after place to live. For equally obvious reasons people are more likely to settle in areas where work is available and therefore the South East and London in particular, is facing the largest housing crisis.
Faced therefore with an exploding tenant market, some landlords (I hasten to add not all) see this as an opportunity for rich pickings.
If a tenant complains, the current law allows the landlord, by giving appropriate notice which is relatively short, to tell the tenant to leave. In some cases the landlord continues to receive rent under a contract with the local authority and can see this as a huge windfall by renting property to someone else in the queue.
Contractual arrangements that tenants enter into with landlords are meant to be fair to provide either party with the opportunity after a relatively short period of time, to terminate the lease. The rental market is now in such a state where these lease arrangements with short notice provisions, work in favour of the landlord.
When looking at the law elsewhere one need not look any further than the rental market in Germany. Germany is almost unique in having a high rental market, with approximately 50% of the population renting long term.
I have friends in Germany who have rented the same property for years. They moved into their flat when they were in their 20’s, stayed when they got married, and continued to stay when they had children. They even fitted new kitchens, new bathrooms, and carried out alterations with the landlords consent.
This arrangement is almost unheard of in the UK. Faced with the kind of housing and rental crises that I have referred to above, we need to create a similar system whereby tenants are able to feel secure in their accommodation and want to stay. Everyone is therefore a winner. The tenant sets down roots in the local community secure in the knowledge that they are not about to be turfed out. The landlord in turn, has an almost guaranteed rental income.
Although the law in Germany is weighed in favour of the tenant, this does not mean that Germany is free from unscrupulous landlords and stories still abound of landlords evicting tenants so that they can increase the rent. What is clear in Germany however is that local authorities and the Government in creating laws, are not shy of wading in on the tenants’ side and redressing the balance with landlords.
The rental market in Germany is vitally important. Given its size, if the rental market fell apart this would spread uncertainty on many families and would be hugely disruptive.
Now is the time for the UK Government to begin to take similar steps. It should follow the examples of local authorities in particular those in London which are assisting tenants, but do so with one arm behind their back and with little by way of regulation to fall back on.
The law at present is weighed in favour of the landlord. It fails to make any allowances for the housing crisis and unless serious thought is given to long term consequences and what is required, the rental market will fail to provide the bedrock of what many cities now need so desperately.
Since we all need somewhere to live, this in itself would create a crisis which must at all costs be avoided.
Tristan Hallam is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
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