Retaliatory evictions

Article reference: UK-IA-RES23
Last updated: December 2020 | 13 min read

By every standard, a retaliatory eviction is wrong, but, until the 1st of October, 2015, it wasn’t illegal. Since the 1st of October, 2015, a significant number of new provisions in the Deregulation Act came into force. These are meaningful because they are made to protect tenants from unfair eviction.

Especially in cases where they raised a valid complaint regarding the conditions of their home.

These provisions also regulate certain segments of the landlord-tenant relationship, as they require that landlords provide information about the rights and responsibilities of tenants to all new tenants. They also provide that no landlord can serve a Section 21 notice if they haven’t complied with their legal responsibilities. These provisions also introduce a new standard form that a landlord has to use when evicting tenants under the Section 21 (no fault) procedure.

This means that when landlords have a legitimate reason, it will be a lot more straightforward to evict tenants. On the other hand, all of this can mean that you as a tenant are a lot safer with these new rules.

How is tenancy defined?

An agreement between a tenant and a landlord is defined as a tenancy. It’s a contract that gives certain rights and obligations to both sides. It gives the tenant the right to live in the property in question while giving the landlord the right to receive remuneration in the form of rent.

Lately, all private accommodation tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies. Usually, these last 6 or 12 months. If both parties agree, they can last longer.

How is retaliatory eviction defined?

When a tenant makes a valid, legitimate complaint to the landlord about the condition of the property they are renting, and the landlord responds with an eviction notice – that is a retaliatory eviction. So, instead of making the required repairs, the landlord serves an eviction notice. This is an impermissible practice, as no tenant should be afraid of becoming homeless just for asking for necessary repairs.

Is retaliatory eviction a common issue?

According to official data, more than 213.000 renters across England have been served with an eviction notice or evicted during the past year for complaining about a problem in the rented property to their landlord, council or letting agent. It is not condoned by the RLA. According to the latest survey of the English Housing, only 7% of all tenancies are ended by the landlord. A vast majority of that percentage is ended for valid reasons such as tenants’ failure to pay rent, their anti-social behaviour, or owner’s wish to sell the property. This only leaves room for a rather small minority of landlords who are being unreasonable and serving retaliatory eviction notices.

Pre-1989 regulated tenants and those with assured tenancy

When you have an assured or regulated tenancy, you are safe from a revenge eviction. If you have either of these, your landlord needs to prove in the court that there’s a legal reason for evicting you.

Assured shorthold tenancy

If your assured shorthold tenancy agreement was signed or even renewed after the 1st of October 2015, you do have some protection against retaliatory eviction.

Cases when rules apply

The rules we’re talking about apply in the case the tenant:

  • Made a written complaint to the landlord. A complaint by email or letter is considered as a written complaint.
  • Made a complaint about the state of the rented property or for the repairs of the same.
  • Made a complaint to the local council because the landlord never took steps necessary to fix the problem. In this case, the council had to have sent a notice to the landlord to tell them to make improvements needed.
  • Received a Section 21 eviction notice from the landlord in response.

The rules in question can also apply in the case the tenant first complained to the council, but only if the tenant didn’t have the landlord’s email or postal address.

Cases when rules do not apply

These rules don’t apply in cases when:

  • The tenant did not make any written complaint but made oral or verbal one that actually do not count as valid complaint.
  • Before the tenant could make a written complaint the landlord served him with a section 21 notice.
  • The council took no action after receiving the complaint or served a hazardous notice to the landlord.
  • The tenant is responsible for the issue that he is complaining about.
  • The tenant didn’t pay the rent, and the landlord uses section 8 procedure for eviction.
  • The landlord’s lender repossesses the property.
  • The landlord puts the property up for sale.

Unfortunately, these are not the only instances in which you, as a tenant, are not protected. You don’t have any protection if your landlord is able to prove to the court that;

  • They have actually put the property up for sale (and sales to family members, business partners, and friends do not count).
  • You are responsible for the issue that you are making a complaint against.
  • The landlord’s mortgage lender repossessed the property and will sell it with vacant possession. This doesn’t apply only if your tenancy began before your landlord took the mortgage.

All of this is only regarding Section 21 notices, so you won’t be protected against a retaliatory eviction if your landlord chooses to use the section 8 eviction procedure. However, you can challenge that for some other reasons.

What are hazard notices?

You noticed that we mentioned that rules do not apply after the council issues a hazard notice. Once the council serves a notice for emergency remedial action, or an improvement notice to your landlord, their right to serve you a Section 21 eviction notice is suspended for 6 months. If the landlord gets served with this notice before the court hearing, the court will not order the tenant to leave, and the landlord’s case will fail. On the other hand, if the council doesn’t serve an improvement notice to the landlord before the court hearing, there’s a good chance the court will order the tenant to leave the property.

What are improvement notices?

An improvement notice that the local council can send means that there’s a problem serious enough to be considered a Category 1 or 2 hazard. Category 1 hazards are the most dangerous ones, and they include issues such as exposed wiring and leaky roofs. Category 2 hazards are less dangerous and include issues such as damp walls and similar lesser problems.

What are emergency remedial action notices?

This basically means the council is able to arrange repairs necessary in order to remove the risk of harm to the property in question.

How does all this affect landlords?

At the moment, landlords can regain property possession based on two sections of the Housing Act from the ‘88.

  • Section 8 that allows a landlord to regain possession based on grounds such as late rent, and tenant’s anti-social behaviour.
  • Section 21 that allows a landlord to repossess his property without forcing them to state a clear reason for doing so. This is possible as soon as the fixed tenancy term expires.

When/If a tenant refuses to leave on a date specified in the notice, the landlord has to apply to a court for a “possession order”.

Unfortunately, when a section 8 notice is in question, this process can be long and expensive. When a section 21 notice is in question, the entire process is a lot more straightforward.

The most important measures that are proposed in the Lords amendment include the following:

  • If your landlord plans to evict you due to an intervention of local authorities in regards to the condition of the property, they will not be able to do so. In fact, the no-fault eviction notice (section 21) is not applicable for six months in this situation.
  • Your landlord also won’t be able to evict you in response to a complaint about the property’s condition. Of course, it needs to be legitimate and in writing.

Which types of repairs fall under this piece of legislation?

These rules give you, as a tenant, a lot more security than you had before. With them, you will be able to make reasonable complaints about the property. And you won’t have to fear retaliation. This covers the type of complaints that cover issues that pose a serious issue. This legislation will protect you if the issue poses a risk to your health or safety. Or to the health and safety of any of your family members. So, if your complaint is about a burnt out light bulb or a tap that is dripping, this legislation will not protect you. However, if there is a problem with the heating you are safe. Any leaks in the property are also a part of this coverage. Of course, most landlords will react rather quickly to repair these issues. However, there are those who will refuse to do so. And, if they try to evict you in response, this legislation will protect you.

Reasons that a landlord filing a retaliatory eviction

So, to reiterate when a retaliatory conviction happens. It usually occurs when the landlord tries to evict you, the tenant, in response to something that is well within your legal rights.

Some of the common situations include, but are not limited to:

  • Too many complaints by the tenant - A good example of this would be complaining about the heat. You might complain that your apartment doesn’t get warm enough. If the heating does not work properly, the landlord should address it properly. However, some landlords will choose to try and evict you rather than to fix the issue.
  • A call to the health department by the tenant - Another possible instance of a retaliatory eviction. If you call a health department about moldy walls your landlord might get angry and file for evicting you.
  • A call to the building department - Your landlord might try to evict you if you call the building department to complain about faulty banisters.
  • Withholding rent - Another thing that might agitate your landlord would be you withholding rent waiting for an issue to be fixed.
  • Organising a protest against landlord’s actions - For an example, if you organise a protest with other tenants to fight rent increase your landlord might choose to file for evicting you.
  • Joining a tenant’s union – Not every retaliatory evictions comes from anger. The landlord might be worried that you will try to use legal loopholes to take advantage of him.

When can your landlord legally evict you?

Retaliation is not one of the reasons your landlord might legally file for an eviction.

However, there are many other reasons your landlord can file for it. The list of reasons might vary locally, depending on your country within the UK. But the common ones are:

  • Failure to pay rent
  • Various breaches of the tenancy agreement
  • Illegal activities on the premises performed by the tenant
  • Decreased property value due to damage caused by the tenant
  • Disruptive behaviour by the tenant.
  • Tenant is posing a threat to safety and health of other tenants

Other retaliation acts

While your landlord might file for an eviction to retaliate, it is not the only thing that could happen. In fact, there are other retaliatory actions a landlord might take to punish actions that they did not like. And, bear in mind that any retaliatory action is illegal. Some of these actions include:

  • Increasing the rent - Another, very common, form of retaliation is increasing of the rent you have to pay.
  • Threatening behaviour or harassing - Your landlord might choose to retaliate without actually changing the situation directly. Instead, they could harass you to withdraw your complaint, or even threaten you.
  • Making the living conditions unpleasant - Instead of filing for an eviction, your landlord might attempt to make your stay uncomfortable.  This form can include the landlord taking away your parking spot by blocking the access to it. It can also include refusing to make necessary repairs and address issues. Your landlord might even choose to try to restrict your access to the common washer and dryer.
  • Refusing to renew the lease - Another form of retaliation your landlord might use. They might refuse to renew your lease as a response to your complaint or other acts.

How can you protect yourself?

Of course, there are ways to protect yourself from these types of evictions. You should never have to worry about eviction just because you asked for repairs. So, in order to protect yourself, you should probably follow these steps.

  • Only use written forms of communication with your landlord. Emails and short text messages are perfect for this. You can even use letters for communication.
  • Always written letters when you are requesting repairs. Physical, written letters, that you send out to the address of your landlord hold well in courts. Of course, other forms of evidence are still viable, but a written letter is still the most prevalent form of an official document.
  • Take immediate action. If your landlord decides to issue a section 21 following your request for repairs contact the local council as soon as possible. Explain to them that you are a victim of a retaliatory eviction and provide them with the request for repairs. Demand the council to assist you and have an EHO perform an inspection of the property to serve an improvement notice to your landlord.
  • The improvement notice renders the Section 21 notice invalid. However, your landlord might still take you to court. This is why having proper documentation is really important.

What is the Residential Landlord Association doing about this?

According to the RLA, this is just a rallying cry created to remove S21 as the no-fault clause. However, they believe that S21 clause is the only way to regain your possessions when you absolutely have to. They also believe that this piece of legislation is not necessary since consumer protection already deems these evictions illegal. However, the tenants simply didn’t know how to use those protections. Ever since this bill was introduced into the Parliament, the Residential Landlord Association has been raising the awareness in multiple ways.

  • Meeting with ministers to explain how serious the implications of this bill are for the private sector.
  • Briefing all MPs trying to make a case against abolishing S21 and asking them to raise the concerns they have with Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
  • Briefing the important members of the House of Lords.
  • Attending the conferences of both Conservative and Labour parties. Discussing the issues with MPs and influencers.
  • They carried out a survey that included over 1,700 landlords asking them about common reasons for evictions. And 9 out of 10 landlords report that they usually file for an eviction in due to arrears. Around 40% of them report that they did so for anti-social behaviour or damage to the property. 20% report that they had to evict tenants due to drug-related activities. And less than 30% reported that they wanted to regain the possession of their properties for personal reasons. And the main reason they listed was the need to sell it. This survey shows that your landlord is not very likely to evict you if they don’t really need it.
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