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Lord Stallard: Before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask this question. Is not the landlord already safeguarded? He has an agreement signed by himself and the tenant for six months. What other safeguards does he need?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I understand that the noble Lord's amendment provides that if the tenant decided not to move at the end of six months and if, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, mentioned, just before the end of the six months the tenant tries to exercise one of his rights of complaint and the landlord does what he had always intended to do and asks for possession and the tenant refuses to go, when he goes to court the new clause allows the tenant to say, "I am being chucked out because I complained against this landlord." That is the point.
Lord Dubs: I listened with interest to what the Minister said. At the outset I made it clear that only a minority of landlords were bad landlords. I do not suggest that in most instances there would be any need for the provisions of the amendment to be brought into effect. But the fact is that there are not only difficult tenants but also difficult landlords. It was argued that the provision would impose a burden on landlords. Any landlord--he may not make a lot of money--is letting as a business. However, for the tenant it is his home. In those circumstances, it does not seem unreasonable to have at least a balance between the rights of the two parties. My contention is that government policy in the Bill is tipping the balance very much to the disadvantage to tenants and to the advantage of landlords.
If I understood his figures correctly, the Minister said that 15 per cent. of tenants were dissatisfied with their landlords to a greater or lesser extent. He referred to very dissatisfied and partly dissatisfied. Fifteen per cent. means that more than one in seven of all tenants are dissatisfied. That seems a fairly large number of individuals who are in danger of losing their homes if they have the temerity to complain.
I agree with the Minister that motive may sometimes be hard to assess. Perhaps I may cite a few instances. For example, I understand that in one part of the London borough of Camden the environmental health department started a programme of improvement works in HMOs. The department's assessment was that many landlords had evicted shorthold tenants to avoid doing essential improvement work to make the property safe and fit for human habitation. It believes that this led to a 15 per cent. loss of accommodation.
In Bristol, the environmental health department estimates that 10 per cent. to 13 per cent. of private accommodation is lost because of retaliatory evictions after notices have been served. Other local authorities make the same point. Those examples may not represent the majority of tenants. But they present sufficiently clear evidence to make one believe that doing nothing about the problem is unfair and will become increasingly so. In support of my amendment, perhaps
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is difficult to do so. The noble Lord neatly added 9 per cent. to 6 per cent. and reached 15 per cent. of tenants dissatisfied. However, I remind him of what I said: 9 per cent. were slightly dissatisfied, 6 per cent. were very dissatisfied. It is not fair to add the 9 per cent. and the 6 per cent., although the noble Lord managed to do so and then prayed it in aid. If he wishes to pray the figures in aid, then perhaps the 6 per cent. is the better figure.
We believe that tenants are protected to a reasonable extent, but so also must landlords be protected. Many landlords do not let as a business; they let their homes while they are working away, they let a retirement home that they might have bought and where they hope to live in two or three years' time. Meanwhile, they receive income from letting the property. They are vitally concerned about regaining possession when necessary. One must guard against landlords fearing that the law has swung against them and if the day comes when they need possession of their property, the tenant will be able to use the law to remain in situ, to the landlord's great inconvenience.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made a point about enforcement notices and a house not being habitable. I find it odd that a tenant should want to stay in a house if he has asked the local authority to judge it to be not habitable. If the landlord wishes to repair that house, he may need vacant possession, and a tenant insisting on staying would make a nonsense of the reason for the enforcement notice. I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, any more comfort on this. I believe that he is asking for something that is unnecessary and, more important, that would lead to landlords being more reluctant to go into the business of letting their properties, especially with the important single property lettings. Many people, not only landlords but also tenants, find them extremely useful and the last thing we wish to do is to create difficulty. By lifting the bureaucracy from the sector we have increased the private rented sector considerably. We still have a long way to go if we consider what our continental colleagues have in the private rented sector. Taking the full package, we believe that the balance is fair and that the new clause would begin to tilt it back against the landlord.
Lord Monkswell: Will the Minister reflect on the arguments that he used when he prayed in aid that apparently only a small proportion of tenants are dissatisfied and would presumably like to obtain redress from landlords? The Minister suggested that
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said that he did not understand what we were talking about because if one has an assured shorthold one has a fixed term which is assured. That is right, but the amendment suggests removing that assurance on the landlord's side. If I am a tenant in a place where I know that I have a fixed six months, one month before it is time to give up possession I can immediately complain because I can keep the fixed tenancy for much longer. The landlord will then consider the position and say: "This is a real hazard, if my vacant possession is never to be vacant".
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that we go back to the days when he and I served on the same local authority in London and the subject was a long-running political argument. The Francis Committee report removed the right of the landlord to regain possession of his furnished property. I remember one day travelling in a car with the then Labour leader of the London Boroughs Association. I told him that the proposal would have a damaging effect and that the supply of furnished tenancies would dry up in the way that the supply of unfurnished tenancies had dried up. He said: "No, I am sure that that won't be so". Noble Lords will remember that the Labour Government implemented the minority report on the Francis Committee which took away any right of the landlord to recover his property. What happened is that all furnished property became almost non-existent. People went to the trouble and financial loss of keeping their properties empty rather than letting them. If a member of their family was about to get married or if they themselves wanted to retire to a property, whatever the reason, they kept the property empty because the one thing they wanted was to be able to regain possession. The assured shorthold process came in after that and suddenly properties were available to tenants.
If we accept the fixed term to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred, and plenty of other people provide fixed term accommodation with shorthold tenancies and a large supply of accommodation becomes available because landlords are willing and able to let their properties, there will be somewhere for people to live. The amendment is dangerous and threatens the whole assured shorthold process.
Lord Meston: I wish to correct the impression which the noble Baroness has gained that the amendment would mean that merely by complaining before the end of the tenancy a tenant could automatically prolong it. That is not correct. Surely, all the amendment means is that if the motivation of the landlord can be proved to the satisfaction of the court, the court will have a discretion. It is nothing more than that.
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