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Retaliatory Evictions: A Guide for Landlords

Naturally landlords have rightly come to expect control over their rental property, after all this is their investment and upon the signing of the tenancy agreement must attend to its regular upkeep for the tenants. But whilst the landlord may adhere to their legal obligations, if the tenant fails to reciprocate this, neglecting to maintain their commitment to making rental payments or maliciously damaging the rental or its furnishings, the landlord will have adequate grounds to pursue eviction.

However, whilst the overwhelming majority of landlord’s will not conduct themselves in such a way, tenants have been known to be subject to retaliatory eviction. Most commonly a landlord will enact this through the use of a section 21 notice as they will not be required to lend any justification for their surviving of the eviction.  In these cases tenants that hold an assured shorthold tenancy with their landlord must be aware of their rights and how to proceed with caution.

What Is a Retaliatory Eviction?

Retaliatory eviction often takes places following an occupant of the rental accommodation highlighting a genuine concern, or making a complaint as per their rights and in some cases duty as a tenant. This communication with the landlord will often concern the condition of the rental property, with the owner then responding by beginning eviction proceedings against the occupant, as oppose to addressing the highlighted issues. Naturally these actions are condemned by many in the rental industry and are considered far from a standard or respectable procedure. Not only are retaliatory or revenge evictions directly and severely punishing renters for exercising their rights as a tenant and serving landlord that wish to neglect their legal obligations, only working to strengthen the hostility and stigma that can be associated with the renting experience.

The housing and homelessness charity and campaign group shelter revealed in December 2020 that in the preceding 12 months approximately 213,000 tenants across the UK had been issues with a notice of eviction or had already been evicted by their landlord after bringing an issue with the tenancy to light. With this being said, whilst the number of renters that have experienced retaliatory eviction for simply exercising their rights as a tenant is inexcusable, the English Housing survey reported that less than 10% of all tenancies are ended by the landlord, meaning the chances of a tenant experiencing a  retaliatory eviction are thankfully slim.

Unfortunately many tenants can face a difficult time when trying to prove their case of retaliatory eviction, thankfully there are instances that define this clearly and will result in any eviction proceedings being dismissed.  Providing that the tenant has filed a complaint with the owner of the rental property in a written format so the communication is irrefutable, requested that the landlord carry out necessary repair work, or in the instance they neglect to do so, inform the local authority of potential hazards and received a notice of eviction in response to these, the action of the property owner will be deemed in accordance with retaliatory eviction.

The Deregulation Act 2015 firmly establishes what constitutes a revenge or retaliatory eviction, with the regulations prohibiting a landlord from evicting a tenant as a response to any action the local authority takes against the landlord to ensure they fulfil their obligation to attend to repairs. To this end if the owner of the rental property is served with an improvement notice, or a remedial action notice, legally compelling them to carry out the highlighted repairs, the landlord is unable to issue the occupants of the accommodation with a section 21 notice of eviction for the following six months.

As we all know, there are ways in which a landlord can legally and perfectly justifiably remove a tenant from a rental property. Landlords are empowered to evict an occupant from a rental property by the Housing Act 1988. This act permits the landlord to serve the residents with either a section 21 or section 8 notices, and whilst each will result in the rental opportunity being vacant, they are two drastically different approaches.

Perhaps the most common of the eviction routes is the section 21 notice.  Whilst there is current doubt on how much longer landlords will be able to serve their tenants with such a notice, the section 21 is currently favoured by many for its simplicity and swift results. When issuing a tenant with a section 21 notice the landlord is simply stating that once the fixed term of the rental agreement has come to an end they would like to reclaim possession of the rental property, leaving the tenant to find new accommodation elsewhere. As the section 21 notice is not served because the tenant has been found in breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement, and simply relates to the transfer of possession the owner of the rental property does not have to site the grounds on which they would like to remove the tenant, earning it the moniker of the “no fault” eviction.

Alternatively, the landlord may choose to serve the tenants with a section 8 notice of eviction. However, this notice is exclusively served to a tenant if they have violated the terms of the tenancy agreement, most commonly by withholding due rental payments, neglecting the condition of the property or by committing anti-social behaviour. Because of these breaches when issues a section 8 notice, the landlord will be required to detail the specific “grounds” on which they would like to evict the tenant, with each of these relating to the actions of the problem tenant.

If after either of these courses of action the tenant has failed to vacate the rental property the landlord will be required to gain a possession order from the courts.  Typically, once the possession order has been granted from the possession hearing, the tenant will be given two weeks in which to vacate the property.  With this being said, in some cases a suspended possession order will be granted, allowing the tenant to remain in the rental on the provision that they first fulfil conditions established by the landlord. These will likely be to settle any rent arrears or to amend changes made to the property without permission, however if these are breached the landlord could gain a warrant of eviction, forcing the tenant to leave. In cases where the occupants of the property have accumulated significant amounts of rent arrears the landlord may request that the case is handled by the high court in order for them to enforce the eviction through bailiffs.

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Retaliatory Eviction Exemptions

With this being said, there are specific circumstance under which where a landlord would not be acting unlawfully to proceed with eviction against a tenant that has complained about the condition of the rental property, health and safety concerns or the conduct of the landlord.

If the complaint regarding the rental, tenancy or landlord was made verbally by the tenant, this would not be deemed a valid complaint, not to mention this fall short of being concrete evidence should legal action be taken.  Similarly, if the landlord served the tenant with an eviction notice before any complaints were made about the property, the notice will be upheld. Further to this, if the tenant took steps to report the landlord to the local authority and after an inspection no considerable hazards to the tenant’s health and safety were found, the landlord would be able to serve the tenant with an eviction notice. Additionally a section 21 notice served by the landlord will be upheld, regardless of a tenant complain if the owner of the rental property intends to put the property on the market for sale. Likewise if the landlord’s mortgage provider claims possession of the property it is highly likely this will then be sold on as a vacant possession, providing that the tenancy began in conjunction with the mortgage and not before. As can be expected, if after the complaint the landlord makes an appeal and it is revealed that the occupants of the property are responsible for the issue that is the source of their complaint, a section 21 an eviction notice will be upheld, and the occupants required to vacate the property.

With this being said, if the landlord pursues possession of the rental property through a section 8 notice, they will likely have sufficient ground as you may be found in breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement. Because of this, the tenant will have to find an appropriate defence against these claims.

Other Forms of Landlord Retaliation

It is essential that tenants are aware that eviction proceedings are not the only route a landlord can take when taking retaliatory action. As can be expected any course of retaliation, regardless of this is achieved through serving the occupants of the rental property with an eviction notice or otherwise is unacceptable and will not be upheld if discovered. 

With this in mind the landlord may try to force the occupants to vacate the property through what is referred to as “constructive eviction”. Whilst his will ultimately have the same affect, the method of constructive eviction is often employed by landlords that do not wish to follow the traditional eviction procedure and wish to remove all tenants from the rental property as quickly as possible.

This desperation is often shown in the ways in which this is achieved, typically through making the living conditions within the rental property uninhabitable. In most cases the landlord will make efforts to ensure that the utility supply to the rental property is inconsistent or withdrawn completely, leaving the tenants without gas, electricity and, heating and water, a significant breach of the landlord’s obligation towards their tenants. These actions may also encompass the landlord changing the locks to the property to prevent access, or harasses the tenants, breaching their right to quiet enjoyment of the property.  Further to this the landlords may also refuse to renew the lease of the tenants, or increase the rent in an effort to price out the occupants.

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