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On reflection: Rental law needs a dose of sanity
[July 04, 2014]

On reflection: Rental law needs a dose of sanity

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Two months ago, Andrzej Koper, a tenant of perhaps Britain's most controversial landlords, Fergus and Judith Wilson, was ordered to leave his home in Ashford, Kent - simply, he alleges, because he wanted hot water. The boiler in his pounds 695-a-month home kept failing, but just days after he complained, the Wilsons, pictured, sent him an eviction notice. The Wilsons say this was coincidental - his home was one of 50 they wanted to put up for sale, and they said he was not being evicted because he complained.

The story prompted outrage from commentators, with some lamenting how the balance of power between landlord and tenant in modern Britain was not only Dickensian but "feudal".

Koper, who works for the Guardian's IT department, decided to fight back, challenging the Wilsons at Canterbury county court. But to no avail - this week, the court ruled in favour of the Wilsons, and Koper not only loses his home, but has to pay the Wilsons' pounds 280 costs.

Fergus Wilson emailed me about his court victory. He said it would have: "horrendous consequences [for Mr Koper] when he next tries to obtain a tenancy as he will fail his referencing because the possession order is on his county court record indefinitely. I do not know who advised Mr Koper, but from the papers he put into court, he had absolutely no chance of succeeding and has now ruined his chances of getting a property in the future." All this tells me is that the law is simply wrong. Courts have always favoured the propertied, but even if a judge is sympathetic, there is little he or she can do. There is no obligation in property law for a landlord to give a reason for eviction in a possession notice.

In Germany - Europe's only sane property market - landlords have to give notice of up to nine months depending on how long the tenants have been in occupation, and can't evict without reason. The only way to get someone out in Germany is if they have broken the contract, failed to pay rent for at least two months, sublet without permission or damaged the interior.

In Britain, meanwhile, "retaliatory" or "revenge" evictions have become worryingly common. More than 200,000 people have faced eviction in the past year because they asked their private landlord to fix a problem in their home, according to Shelter research.

The study also suggested that many more renters are too scared of losing their home to complain at all. One in 12 renters (8%) say that they have avoided asking their landlord to repair a problem or improve conditions in the past year because they were scared of eviction.

Shelter highlighted a family in Norfolk handed an eviction notice three weeks after reporting damp and mould to their landlord; a couple in Brighton who complained about a broken thermostat, and mould and damp affecting their health, and were served an eviction notice a week later, and a family from Lancashire evicted after complaining about a leaking roof, who were told by their landlord that it "wasn't worth his while" to fix the problem.

What's needed in Britain is a change in the law to give tenants - but also landlords - better protection and stability. Guardian Money is often accused of anti-landlordism - which is odd, given how frequently we have featured the problems landlords can have with rogue tenants.

If you are a tenant who breaches the stipulations of the sensible German regime, then there is no reason why you should not be evicted much more swiftly than currently happens in the UK. But equally, a system that allows landlords to evict without reason is plainly unfair. If you feel as strongly as I do, Shelter has an online petition calling for greater protection against "revenge" evictions at 9millionrenters. (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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