Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 126A:


Before Clause 95, insert the following new clause--

Extension of certain rights to tenants of registered social landlords

(".--In Chapter I of Part I of Housing Act 1988 (assured tenancies) after section 19 (restriction on levy of distress for rent) there shall be inserted--
Extension of certain rights of tenants of registered social landlords.
19A.--(1) Unless otherwise stated, references in this section to a section or a Schedule are references to a section of or a Schedule to the Housing Act 1985.
(2) The provisions of sections 87 to 90 (succession on death of tenant) shall apply on the death of an assured tenant of a registered social landlord as if he were a secure tenant and section 17 of the Housing Act 1988 (succession to assured periodic tenancy by spouse) shall not apply in such cases.
(3) The provisions of sections 91 to 94 (assignment, lodgers and subletting) shall apply to an assured tenant of a registered social landlord as if he were a secure tenant and section 15 of the Housing Act 1988 (limited prohibition on assignment etc. without consent) shall not apply in such cases.
(4) Sections 96 to 101 (which deal with tenant's improvements) and section 105 (consultation on matters of housing management) shall apply to an assured tenant of a registered social landlords as if he were a secure tenant.".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this new clause would extend certain rights, including certain rights of succession, which are enjoyed by law by secure tenants of registered social landlords to those same landlords' assured tenants. At present, that right is not a matter of law, but is enjoyed under the tenant's guarantee.

I moved a similar amendment in Committee (late at night or possibly even early in the morning) and the Minister said then that he thought that he could fully support the spirit behind it. I was grateful for that acknowledgement at least. He went on to say that the use of the tenants guarantee was adequate for the individuals in question and worked well. I do not believe that it is working well.

Having considered the matter further, I believe it is worth raising two points in response to the Minister. First, a contract is overridden by statute. Conversely, to put it in statute will override contract and ensure that the rights are properly in place.

The second point is related to privity of contract; in other words, someone who is not a party to a contract cannot take action to enforce the provisions of that contract. Other parties can do so for the benefit of that individual, but if those potential parties are dead--often that may be the situation, at least in relation to one of the provisions in question--it will be a matter for the individual's personal representatives. In that event, one may be entering the area of family disputes, which is better avoided. For example, if the contract states that the tenancy shall pass to the children and, if there are no children, to the grandchildren, it will have no effect. When the tenant dies the tenancy will go to the executors or administrators as part of the estate.

The Minister said that the current position was working reasonably well. I am advised that there are a significant number of cases of disputed succession in secure tenancies and court proceedings will follow. Many of your Lordships will feel that if proceedings can

10 Jul 1996 : Column 310

reasonably be avoided by putting into statute something that is now a bit shaky, that is a good thing not only for those directly involved but for the workings of the court. I do not know what the Government will lose by giving rights by statute and I do not see the drawbacks. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as the noble Baroness has said, this issue was considered in Committee. I explained then that, while we fully accepted that housing association assured tenants should be treated no less favourably than secure tenants, it was not necessary to make this a statutory requirement. Housing association assured tenants enjoy these rights by virtue of the tenants guarantee. Those rights go further than the statutory rights given to other assured tenants in the private sector. The noble Baroness has explained that, having considered this further, she feels that this mechanism does not provide the degree of protection enjoyed by secure tenants.

We have looked closely at the concerns of the noble Baroness and we do not believe that they are warranted. The tenants guarantee requires associations to give a right of succession for assured tenants but this need not be contractual. If there is a dispute about the facts of any particular case, there can be recourse to the independent housing ombudsman who under the Bill will have power to determine such matters and require them to be put right. I hope that that deals with the question of privity of contract. If an ombudsman is working well he can be a very powerful friend in such disputes.

In certain cases the tenants guarantee requires contractual arrangements. Disputes may arise, but the Housing Corporation has informed us that there is no evidence that the current arrangements do not work satisfactorily. If the noble Baroness has evidence to the contrary, I hope that she will let us in on it so that we may look at both sides of the question. There are sound reasons why the statutory route is not appropriate for registered social landlords. They are independent non-public bodies. While it is right that they should, as a matter of good practice and as a condition of registration with the corporation, undertake to give their assured tenants rights along the same lines as those enjoyed by secure tenants, they operate in a different environment from local authorities. We have always taken the view that to impose inflexible statutory requirements on the detailed management of their business can have significant implications for the development of registered social landlords. We do not believe that that is desirable.

For that reason, the Bill proposes that the corporation should continue to have power to issue guidance on such detailed matters with which landlords will be expected to comply. If they do not, the corporation can take the necessary measures to ensure compliance. That is the mechanism by which we prefer to deliver the benefits that we all agree housing association assured tenants should have. Although we may agree with the noble Baroness in spirit, when it comes to the method by which this is to be done we must agree to differ.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I certainly agree that we differ. The Minister has made an interesting

10 Jul 1996 : Column 311

comment. He spoke about the freedom of registered social landlords to develop. I believe that he was referring to the freedom of housing associations, not necessarily other registered social landlords, particularly local housing authorities.

I am not terribly happy with the response. I believe that to bring in the ombudsman is to introduce yet another layer of regulation, or at least monitoring. It confuses the issue and certainly does not give the tenant an assurance that the rights are in place. It is dependent upon the judgment of yet another body which will need to look at whether there has been maladministration leading to injustice. That is a substantial hurdle to overcome. I agree that we differ. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I regret to say that there is a printing error in the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 127 should not appear under the heading "Clause 95" but under the heading "Before Clause 95".

Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 127:


Before Clause 95, insert the following new clause--

Retaliatory eviction: extension of notice

(". After Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 there shall be inserted--
"Extensions of notice period for notice of proceedings for possession.
21A.--(1) If after an assured shorthold tenancy has been referred to the Rent Assessment Committee under section 22 of this Act, a notice of proceedings for possession of the dwelling under section 21(1) of this Act, to which the assured shorthold tenancy relates, is served by the lessor on the lessee at any time before the decision of the Rent Assessment Committee is given or within the period of 1 year thereafter, then the notice shall not take effect before the expiry of 1 year.
(2) If after an assured shorthold tenant has complained to the local housing authority or the authority has initiated or proposed to initiate enforcement action, a notice of proceedings for possession of the dwelling, under section 21(1) of this Act, to which the assured shorthold tenancy relates is served by the lessor on the lessee at any time before the local authority exercises its enforcement powers or within the period of 1 year thereafter, then the notice shall not take effect before the expiry of 1 year.
(3) If after an assured shorthold tenant has initiated or proposed to initiate legal proceedings or some other action to secure or enforce his rights as a tenant, a notice of proceedings for possession of the dwelling, under section 21(1) of this Act, to which the assured shorthold tenancy relates, is served by the lessor on the lessee at any time before the local authority exercises its enforcement powers or within the period of 1 year thereafter, then the notice shall not take effect before the expiry of 1 year.".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 127 standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. This amendment deals with the difficult problem of retaliatory eviction. The effect of the amendment is to extend the notice period in such cases. The purpose is to stop landlords retaliating against tenants who try to exercise their legal rights. The Minister will be aware that this matter has given rise to considerable concern. There have been some very unfortunate incidents where landlords have abused the present system. These illustrate the need for measures to stop or delay retaliatory convictions.

10 Jul 1996 : Column 312

I could go through a list of matters that I have before me but I do not want to weary the House with it. Retaliatory evictions, apart from being very distressing to those who are evicted as a result of something they may have done inadvertently, can seriously hamper a local authority's attempts to tackle poor housing conditions. There is little point in strengthening local authority disrepair powers when tenants whose fixed term tenancies have expired may be lawfully evicted so that the landlord can avoid the work. For example, the environmental health department of the London Borough of Camden has begun a programme of improvement works on HMOs in the area of Swiss Cottage.

Many landlords have evicted shorthold tenants to avoid doing essential improvement work to make these properties safe and fit for human habitation. It is believed that this has led to a 15 per cent. loss of accommodation. Figures from the environmental health department of Bristol City Council show that 10 to 13 per cent. of private rented accommodation is lost because of retaliatory evictions after notices have been served. Leicester City Council reports that it has come across examples of lawful retaliatory eviction on a very regular basis. It believes that that is a serious dilemma for enforcement officers. The City of Nottingham also faces the same dilemma.

What is retaliatory eviction? For instance, in a case in Kingston-upon-Hull, two sales representatives rented a flat. They discovered that the heating did not work, the toilet leaked, the cooker was dangerously faulty and there were cockroaches. They complained and the landlord started eviction proceedings. That is retaliatory eviction. The amendment is designed to deal with the problem and to extend the notice period in such cases. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it would be appropriate to declare that I have a personal interest in some parts of the Bill that we are discussing. I own a lease and also a share of the freehold of a flat in London. I also have some responsibility for the care of some houses in the country, some of which are let. Having got that off my chest to the relief of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, perhaps I may reply to his amendment.

He has explained that the purpose of this new clause is to deal with an eviction which a landlord seeks when the tenant has complained, which is commonly known as a retaliatory eviction. The noble Lord put forward the view that where tenants have little security of tenure it is difficult for them to use any of their legal rights because if they do take action against the landlord they risk losing their homes. It is proposed to extend the period of notice that a landlord must give a shorthold tenant before he can seek possession of his property from two months to a year in cases where the tenant has complained or has exercised some legal right.

I have difficulty with what the noble Lord is proposing. It could prevent a landlord from regaining possession of his property for more than a year after the end of the initial six-month period or after the end of a

10 Jul 1996 : Column 313

pre-agreed fixed term--even if he had agreed with the tenant at the outset that the tenancy would be terminated at the end of six months or the fixed term. If the amendment were accepted it would mean that although the tenant had agreed a six-month term with the landlord, that could be exceeded by another 12 months. The tenant would simply have to apply to the rent assessment committee for a rent determination or to complain to the local authority and then he would get his tenancy extended.

If the local authority has served an enforcement notice on the landlord, the landlord may need to get the tenant out before he can do the required work because of the nature of that work. Or the landlord may not be able to afford to do the repairs and he may decide to sell the property instead.

In those circumstances, the landlord would need to be able to regain possession quickly. It would not be practical to require the landlord to give the tenant a year's notice of possession proceedings. Even after the notice of possession had expired, the landlord would still have to go to court to get possession and that would take at least another month. Even if the court decided in the landlord's favour, it could be several weeks before the landlord regained possession.

I can assure the noble Lord that I have considerable sympathy with the minority of tenants who have difficulty getting their landlords to carry out repairs or to meet some other obligation in the tenancy agreement. However, I do not believe that the noble Lord's amendment would in general help tenants. It would create so much uncertainty that many landlords would be deterred from letting their property. The fear of the cost of gaining possession when it is required is one of the major reasons why people with empty properties are reluctant to let. At present those fears are largely unjustified. This new clause would give a real cause for concern.

The whole objective of the deregulatory measures which we introduced in the Housing Act 1988 and the small measures which we have included in this Bill is to make letting easier so that more people would let spare property. That has worked and it would be a great pity to put it in jeopardy. Since 1989, the sector has increased by over 300,000 households. Many of the new lettings would not have come on to the market if the owner had not been confident that he could regain possession when he needed it. Increasing competition in the lettings market is good for tenants and tenants have benefited by it. By bringing more property on to the market we will be giving tenants greater flexibility and choice of accommodation.

Those landlords who provide sub-standard accommodation at unreasonably high rents will find that there is no demand for what they are providing. It will drive them out of the market or it will force them to provide decent accommodation at reasonable rents in order to let their property.

10 Jul 1996 : Column 314

It is for those reasons that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will consider that his amendment, although it is intended to help tenants, will prove to be to the long-term detriment of the tenanted sector.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page