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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 242G:

Page 62, line 29, after ("possession"),) insert--
("(a) for "two", substitute "six"; and

The noble Lord said: I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 242H. The purpose of the amendment is to increase from two to six months the period of notice that would have to be given under the shorthold arrangements. Why is that important? It would give some protection against short eviction notice times, and therefore give some stability to the lives of tenants who are being evicted. It would also give tenants more time to find alternative accommodation, thereby preventing them from becoming homeless.

This is a modest proposal. We are merely seeking to give a little more notice time, realising how difficult it is to find alternative accommodation. That of course is where the landlord relies upon the tenancy being a shorthold tenancy and where the landlord can gain possession when a tenant has done nothing wrong. However, in cases where the landlord requires possession on other specified grounds, the length of notice remains unaltered. So we are talking only of the situation where the landlord wants to gain possession under the shorthold arrangements without having to give any reason for it. It is merely that the landlord wants to have the property. In that instance it seems reasonable that the length of notice that needs to be given should be a little longer than two months. The amendment suggests six months. I beg to move.

Lord Strabolgi: I support the amendment. It will give the Government an opportunity to explain why the period is as short as two months. That does not seem to be long enough to give tenants some protection against counter-action by their landlords where they pursue their legitimate right to remedy disrepair or apply for rent assessment.

Also surely two months will increase the number of homeless families presenting themselves to the local authority as homeless, who will be required to be housed. That cannot be in the interests of the nation as a whole. I should have thought that the Government would look favourably on this amendment. Surely a landlord can wait six months, can he not? Two months is no time at all for a family to have to move, arrange for removers, find other accommodation, and so on. In

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many cases they will of course become homeless. That cannot be in the national interest or indeed even in the Government's interest. I support the amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I oppose the amendment, because if a tenancy is for six months and there is then a notice period of six months, the length of the tenancy is being doubled. The whole purpose of an assured shorthold is that it is agreed at the outset that the tenancy is for a fixed term. As I understand it, that has to be a minimum of six months, but it can be a year in the first instance.

If a tenant has taken a property knowing that it is available for six months, surely long before the end of the six months was reached that tenant would have inquired from the landlord whether a further period was likely to be granted.

Most landlords are happy to have a tenant carry on, because it means that there is no process of re-letting and perhaps having a void period. Those are all factors to be considered from a landlord's point of view, as any small increase in rent is rapidly counterbalanced by a void period. It is not in the landlords' interests to wish to have people out of their properties. They want good tenants in their properties. But as has been brought out again and again during the debate, landlords have various reasons for wishing to let their property. It might be that they have a posting somewhere else for six months, and at the end they wish to return to occupy the property themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, mentioned families being made homeless. However, we are talking not only about families but also about single people and couples. An assured shorthold can be given to any tenant, not just to a family with small children. The noble Lord introduces a slightly emotional element that does not necessarily exist. I believe that an extension from two to six months on what might be only a six month tenancy is disproportionately long and I oppose the amendment.

Lord Monson: The noble Baroness has said everything that I would have wished to say, albeit much better. However, there is a further fact that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has failed to consider. The landlord may wish to sell the property because he may be in desperate need of cash. To force him to wait for six months before he can get the tenants out and refurbish the property to make it suitable for sale would impose a great hardship upon him.

Lord Selsdon: I wonder whether there may be a conflict of interests. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is trying to do and perhaps he has an idea of how to overcome a situation to which I shall draw attention. When I worked in the banking world many people were often sent abroad and they let their property during that time. Other people to whom the bank had given mortgages would let part of their house perhaps in the basement area while their children were at university or were in the Army.

I am not an expert on the mater but I recall that people may try to let a property for a year and know that they would have to let it for at least six months. There was

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then a two month period on both sides after the six months letting, or two months at the end of the year. Usually the people who rented the accommodation wanted it for the period of time involved, otherwise they would not have taken up that particular tenancy. Often there would be good will. Sometimes the tenancy would be rolled over or sometimes the owner wanted to sell the house. In those days it was difficult to sell a property if there was a tenant in a part of it.

Perhaps we are talking about two different types of situation. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has a way of overcoming the situation that I have described. Many people let accommodation on a short-term basis and there is a two month notice period after the six months. I am not sure how we achieve one without jeopardising or penalising the other.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have taken part in the short debate. My noble friends Lord Selsdon and Lady Gardner of Parkes put forward a convincing argument and I should be dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s of their argument if I spoke at length.

Perhaps I may set out what Clause 91 achieves and therefore what the amendment seeks to change. It amends Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 which requires a landlord to give an assured shorthold tenant with either a fixed-term or a periodic tenancy at least two months' notice if he requires possession of the property. Clause 91 makes it clear that the notices must be in writing; it is two months' notice in writing. If we are carrying out a balancing act I would have thought that that would have been something that I was doing in favour of the tenant.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has chosen Clause 91, which makes that small change of adding a qualification in writing, as a vehicle to increase the period of notice which a landlord must give a tenant before he can seek possession of his property from two to six months, thereby, I believe, undermining the landlord's position which has existed since 1988.

My noble friend Lady Gardner rightly pointed out that if the tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy which must run for six months and at the end the landlord decides he wants repossession, he must give notice in writing of another six months. That takes the period up to a year and, adding in the time that it takes the landlord to go to court to obtain possession, a six months' tenancy rapidly begins to approach 18 months.

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is serious about wanting such a change. I believe that it would act against what we are all trying to achieve, which is to encourage landlords to come forward with properties to let. In particular, it would discourage those people who want only short-term tenants because they are going abroad, or to another part of the country, or whatever. They may want to rent out the house only for a short time and will want to be sure that when they return they can return to their own house.

I believe that the noble Lord's proposal would go a long way towards discouraging the owners of empty properties making them available. It would significantly

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damage the landlord's right to possession. We have tried to go in the other direction in order to make sure that the landlord believes that if he lets out his property there will be a reasonable balance between himself and the tenant when he wants repossession. It is important that the landlord has that knowledge. I believe that two months gives the tenant a reasonable time to find alternative accommodation, especially if the tenant originally knows that the tenancy is for six months. He will know that at the end of that time it must be in his interest to make some inquiry of the landlord about whether the tenancy will continue and will take steps to find other accommodation. I believe that two months' notice is reasonable. If a tenant believes that he has the right to retain the tenancy, within that two months he can begin action to contest the landlord's right to possession. In any event, as I have already said today, the landlord cannot require the tenant to leave without a court order for possession. There is no question of a tenant being thrown out on to the street without a reasonable period in which to find accommodation.

I repeat that we wish to sustain the recent growth in the private-rented sector and not to reverse it. That is why the Bill includes measures to make it easier and less risky to let property. Landlords have a real fear about not being able to gain possession of their property when they need to. I believe that the amendments would bolster that fear and reduce the supply of private-rented accommodation. I cannot believe that that would be in anyone's interest.

I hope that with that explanation of the clause and of what I believe the noble Lord's amendment would achieve he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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