Renters unions, housing campaigners and Croydon Labour councillors were proclaiming a victory this morning, after the Tory government announced plans to consult over proposals to abolish “no-fault evictions”.
At present, Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act allows landlords to evict tenants at short notice without giving a reason, making possible “revenge evictions”, where renters lose their homes after asking for repairs or making complaints.
Campaigners describe Section 21 as “appalling legislation”, and a law “that has no place in a civil society”.
“Having landlords that can evict you on a whim, often because they want to put the rent up, is one of the most destructive examples of a housing system that puts the interests of landlords to make a profit above the needs of renters for a home,” said Heather Kennedy, the housing organiser at the New Economics Foundation, one of the groups which campaigned for the change.
According to another group leading the campaign, Generation Rent, since 2015 some 140,000 tenants have been victims of Section 21 revenge evictions. The government today agreed that Section 21 is the leading cause of homelessness in England.
Alison Butler, the Croydon Council cabinet member for homelessness and no council homes, tweeted: “Really proud that @yourcroydon @CroydonLabour were the first council to pass a motion calling for this action.”
Croydon’s Tories, and Downing Street employee Mario Creatura, “bitterly opposed”, Butler noted.
But there might have been a little more than pressure from Croydon Town Hall to achieve this significant change. A coalition of renter unions and housing campaigns compiled a 50,000-signature petition in just 10 weeks, backed by the Green Party and 12 other local authorities, as well as the Labour Party.
The campaign is not yet home and dry, though. The government announcement today is that it will consult on abolishing S21 evictions in England.
In its announcement, the Communities and Housing department described the proposals as “the biggest change in housing policy in a generation”.
The reform of S21, they said, “will effectively create open-ended tenancies, bringing greater peace of mind to millions of families who live in rented accommodation. Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home”.
More than 4 million people live in private rented accommodation, and even the government admitted this morning that the housing market, “leaves many tenants feeling insecure”.
As the law stands, landlords have the right to get rid of tenants with as little as eight weeks’ notice after a fixed-term contract has ended.
Housing charity Shelter called the proposed changes “an outstanding victory” for renters, which will give tenants more reassurance that they will not face snap evictions if they complain about the poor quality of their accommodation.
Under the proposals, landlords seeking to evict tenants would have to use another part of the Housing Act, Section 8, which can be implemented when a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, has been involved in criminal or anti-social behaviour or has broken terms of the rent agreement, such as damaging the property.
Ministers have said they will amend the S8 process to allow it to be used by landlords if they want to sell the property or move back in themselves. Unlike Section 21, tenants can challenge Section 8 evictions in court.
“The government has listened to renters and has made the right decision,” Dan Wilson Craw, a director of Generation Rent, told Inside Croydon today.
“Eleven million people in England have no idea where home will be in a year’s time, thanks to Section 21. The ability of landlords to evict without reason is disrupting educations, eroding our communities, and leaving tenants feeling powerless.”
Amina Gichinga, of the London Renters Union, said, “This campaign success is a vital first step to ending profiteering from housing and towards a housing model based on homes for people not profit.”
But Gichinga identified other important areas for reforming the private rented sector, which are also likely to prove deeply unpopular with the landlords who sit on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons, or at Croydon Town Hall. “Without serious rent controls, housing remains unaffordable in our city and landlords will still be able to force us out to make way for people who can afford higher rents,” Gichinga said.
“Urgent action is needed to stop social cleansing and the violent displacement of working class people and migrants.”
One of the campaign groups which lobbied for the S21 changes is ACORN, a union-like organisation which works for communities to “claim our economic rights”. They were quite clear about what today’s announcement represents.
“This was not a gift from a benevolent government,” said ACORN’s Nick Ballard. “The collective strength of organised tenants forced them into this concession.
“We’ve fought Section 21 on the front line: in our communities. Door by door and street by street our members put themselves in the way of landlords and bailiffs, physically preventing evictions.
“This is a huge win but there’s more to come. Next are rent controls to ensure that housing becomes a social and human right and not an asset generating profits for a few. Solidarity is strength. We know what we’re entitled to and we’re taking what’s ours.”
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