Back in the 70’s, when I first became a landlord, I didn’t tell anyone. There wasn’t the publicity that there is now and of course no social media, but it was generally assumed that landlords were not “nice people”. In those days there was no Section 8 or Section 21, and legally removing a delinquent tenant was almost impossible. This led to some landlords using other methods to force a tenant to move out. This is why The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 came about. The Act made several common actions unlawful:
- Turning off the water supply
- Pulling the fuse to the electricity
- Turning off the gas
- Changing the locks when the tenants were out
- Sending someone around to remove the tenant’s belongings
- Forcing a tenant to leave without a Court Order
There were also no Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST). Many landlords were forced to maintain properties for which they were getting very little rent and certainly not enough to maintain the property, never mind make a profit. Some landlords paid tenants to leave, but others did in fact force them out or sold the property with a sitting tenant for peanuts. It’s surprising how many of the old tenancies still exist because they came with the right to pass them down to the next generation – this could only happen once, but it has meant that the sons and daughters of the original tenants are still in place, usually at a very low rent and with no way of removing them.
All of this gave landlords a very bad name and among the working classes, many of whom were their tenants, they were despised.
In those days it was difficult to find other landlords to speak to because they all kept their heads down unless they were very big landlords. I kept my head down too, but my first property was a new build and I wanted to keep it in good condition and to give tenants a nice home. When I look back now, I was very lucky to have had great tenants who always paid their rent and treated the house with respect, so in my little bubble being a landlord was not too difficult at all, although I was very aware that not all landlords were in the same position. When I bought more properties in the early 80’s I bought near to universities in Birmingham and let to students who always left after a year or two. This meant that I had the opportunity to clean up and maintain my properties every summer. Again, I was protected from the world of sitting tenants.
It would be over 20 years before I connected with other landlords, and by then we had Section 8 and Section 21 which were introduced in the Housing Act 1988 along with Assured Shorthold Tenancies with a minimum initial term of 6 months. The world changed for landlords and everyone and his dog came rushing in because the banks began lending through Buy to Let 100% Loans which, in those days, were dependant on the property value and potential rental income only. For a short time, landlords were not bad people and councils encouraged us to help them to house those who needed to rent a home because a lot of their own stock had been lost through Right to Buy.
The tide turned as we entered the second decade of this century. When property values fell, interest rates dropped to an all-time low, and people became more creative about squeezing money from a rented property. Two types of landlords emerged.
The first was the person who wanted to build a solid business or pension pot often while continuing to work in a full-time job. These landlords saw the value of the building as part of their profit along with the rent.
The second was the landlord who wanted to squeeze as much monthly income as possible out of the property, often not owning it, and seeing it as a cash cow. There was an explosion of family homes converted into homes in multiple occupation (HMO). Soon landlords were once again seen as bad people, and the Government began to introduce legislation and regulation to control what they perceived was happening. When that failed to prevent small landlords from buying up properties, the government changed the way the loans we took as individuals were treated for Income Taxation, and the profit we made on a sale was treated for Stamp Duty Land Tax.
Landlords ask all the time, why am I treated like this when I am providing homes for people who would have nowhere else to live? Most landlords will continue to work hard to provide nice homes to our tenants and prove the media wrong, but unfortunately there are some landlords who continue to feed the beast by treating good tenants really badly.
I am going to tell two true stories to illustrate why tenants feel insecure and why tenant support organisations and Government want to redress the balance of power.
I often read posts in Facebook groups (I find them more interesting than the TV). One night at about 1am I read a post:
“Need Help!!!! I live in an HMO in X area and our fuse has just gone, we can’t find the fuse box and the landlord is saying he can’t do anything until tomorrow. He told my support worker that If I want to leave the property I can, but I’ve got nowhere to go. I have anxiety really bad right now. PLEASE HELP”
I offered to help so she gave me her number and I rang her. She was in a state, afraid and worried that her phone would die… Eventually she calmed down and we established that she was in supported accommodation. The other occupiers of the house were out for the night. Her support worker was speaking to her and then to the landlord, but no one was offering to go and be with her. From our discussion I was fairly sure that the mains for the electricity was in the cellar and the door was locked with a coded lock. I don’t think that she would’ve been able to find the fuse board and reset the breaker in the state she was in, but she wanted to try anyway. She called her support worker and asked for the code to the cellar lock. The support worker tried calling the landlord, but he didn’t pick up.
Eventually she was calm and we decided that going to bed was the best option, because the sun would be up in a couple of hours. I called her the following afternoon and the landlord still hadn’t been. She was afraid that she would be left overnight again. I urged her to call her support worker and eventually the landlord appeared, went into the cellar, reset the breaker, relocked the door and left. She stood in the hall, and he didn’t speak to her or even look at her.
I was ashamed and horrified that my tax pounds and yours are lining that landlord’s pockets.
The second story is about an average family
A friend of mine is renting a family home with her partner and three children. They will be renting for some time, but they are fine with that because they are in a nice property with a garden, close to schools and a room for each child.
The landlord, who only owns that property, is completely unprofessional and is behaving in a way which is causing stress to the family and issues for a child studying for exams. The family cannot find another 4 bedroomed house in the area, so they have no choice but to tolerate the landlord’s behaviour. I spoke to my friend who is well aware of her legal rights, but she said that if they cause any problems, they will be evicted with a Section 21 and they will be homeless.
The landlord had builders in and this is what was happening during that time. The builders were:
- Building an extension on the back of the property
- Builders were working 7 days a week from 7am until 7pm
- They were using the electricity for tools, radios and even charging mobile phones
- They were using the downstairs toilet
- They were using the kettle and work top to make tea (they brought their own mugs but leave them on the draining board every night)
- They were using the water to make cement
- The tenants were still paying the utility bills
The tenants are not blaming the builders for all this, as the builders shouldn’t have been there!!
Did the landlord discuss this with them first?
No, she told them that she was going to build this extension to increase the value of the property.
Did she give them notice of the start date?
No, the first they knew was when the contractors turned up.
The “extension” is now finished, and it’s a cheap wood and plastic building.
They have been left without a step from the house to the patio/garden.
Mice are coming into the property under the timber which is supporting the “extension” and into the hall.
There is a space of about 4 cm in the hall roof where the extension joins the house.
A pile of wood and debris remains in the passage from the house to the extension.
No electricity in the extension and switches and sockets hanging off the walls.
Two wooden steps lead from the garden into the extension.
There is burnt grass in the garden where wood was burnt on a bonfire.
There are bricks and other debris at the end of the back garden near the swing and a lawn which is churned up.
In the front garden there is rubble, bricks, pieces of PVC, black bags all around their cars, plasterboards covered in a sheet, pieces of glass and a PVC door.
They cannot cut the grass which is now growing up around the rubbish.
The landlord is sending a skip which THEY can use to put the rubbish in if they wish.
All of this went on for 9 weeks, including weekends. Builders were causing a noise invasion in their home, increasing their utility bills and leaving mess the tenants were expected to clean up. I am ashamed that anyone who calls themself a landlord would treat a lovely family like this, and really angry that they feel afraid to complain because they will lose their home.
When they do move, I will be ready to help them to get compensation for all the things that this landlord hasn’t done, aside from the above the tenants have:
- No Gas safety certificates – the tenants paid a gas engineer to check the boiler
- No paperwork apart from a thrown together contract
- No electric safety certificate
- No deposit protection
I’m telling you all this because THIS is the reason that we are so disliked. Many tenants feel trapped and unable to take action to solve problems because if they do they will be evicted. It is easy to see why the Government are going to remove our rights to evict a tenant without giving a reason and going in front of a judge to prove it.
I hope that once Section 21 is gone the balance of power between landlords and tenants will be restored. This will mean a quick hearing and Court Order, for Section 8 cases, particularly those for rent arrears or anti-social behaviour. There have been changes made to the Bailiff system which could delay execution of the eviction, but we should gain possession within 10 weeks of service of a valid Section 8 Notice. We need to be on the ball about serving Section 8 Notices on the second day of the second month that the rent has not been paid, rather than delaying and allowing arrears to accrue. When I read cases, before Lockdown, where landlords were owed thousands of pounds, I can’t help but wonder how anyone allows arrears to build up to those levels. If we deal with rent arrears as soon as they begin there is always the chance that we can come up with a payment plan to get the tenant back on track, but if we wait that often becomes impossible because tenants become so daunted by the amount that they avoid talking to us or even replying to texts or emails – at that point we are left with no option but eviction.
The important point is that the only tenants who will be evicted are those who are in breach of their tenancy agreements. No change there since a landlord wouldn’t want to evict a good tenant. It will mean a court hearing, but if it makes good tenants feel more secure and those in breach of their tenancy agreements more aware of the consequences of their actions this will be a good thing. I hope that this will stop the resentment from tenants and reward good landlords with good relationships with our tenants.
Who knows one day landlords may be seen as making a valuable contribution to society.
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