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The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 134 is grouped with Amendment No. 133, although it is not entirely on the same lines. When this issue was debated in the other place the Planning Minister gave an assurance to look again at the matter. We are therefore tabling the amendment to determine whether the Government have managed to have an opportunity to have a rethink.
Clause 89(3) appears to be making it an offence for a landlord to seek eviction or threaten to seek eviction in such circumstances. A landlord must not have his rights of possession taken away. There is concern among landlords that the use of the word "threat" may imply a reduction in a landlord's proper rights to deal with tenants. Being "threatened with eviction" is a term widely used and may not necessarily imply that the landlord has acted improperly in any way. Being "threatened with violence" may also be a term widely used, but it has a very different meaning. Our amendment would restrike the balance, but in a way that is helpful to the purpose of the clause. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: These two amendments sit rather uneasily together, but I shall try to deal with each in turn. Perhaps it is worth reflecting on what Clause 99 does. It sets out very well the health and safety condition test that must be satisfied before a
Amendment No. 133 would insert a new subsection in Clause 99 requiring that when considering whether the health and safety condition is satisfied, a local housing authority must have regard to any breach of the duty of care owed to an occupant under the new clause proposed by Amendment No. 174. That amendment proposed that HMO landlords should have such a duty of care. It was resisted as we felt that it was rather too vague and that it would be inappropriate to impose criminal sanctions when civil ones existed. I understand that it was withdrawn for that reason.
The health and safety condition already requires local housing authorities to consider the health, safety and welfare of occupants, or those living nearby. It is hard to see what requiring consideration of a breach of duty, as set out originally, adds. Breaches of Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 would be more relevant. As a housing adviser in the past, we used to use that section in our law centre practice to considerable effect.
That is not appropriate, as a "threat" can be made in various guises, such as orally, by withholding services, or by other forms of harassment. The amendment would prevent the local authority acting unless the landlord obliged by putting his "threat" in writing.
The amendment would narrow the effect of subsection (3) by narrowing the circumstances in which the health and safety condition is activated. A threat of eviction may lead to a tenant seeking new accommodation just as surely as any written notice. While the use of the powers in Clause 97 will be exceptional, it is our intention that they should also apply to landlords who may not be scrupulous in using written legal forms to evict tenants.
Clearly there is a judgment to be made as to the nature of a threat. I fear that the amendment does not remove the need for a judgment to be made. That is because it requires that one should go behind the issuing of a written notice and gauge what its intention might be.
In our view the amendment considers only one aspect of what a threat of eviction might amount to. It is too limiting. It is not the case that every decision to evict a tenant automatically triggers the health and safety condition and the making of a management order. All that this provision does is to make it possible for a local authority to take account of a threat to evict in its overall consideration of whether the health and safety condition is met.
If a written notice is served, and the perceived intention is to evict solely in order to avoid licensing, that may be one of the factors that would tend to encourage a local authority to determine that the health and safety condition is met. Of course, any decision by the local authority to make an interim management order can be challenged at the residential property tribunal, as I explained earlier.
I hope that this gives sufficient comfort that the rights of landlords will not be adversely affected by the provision as drafted. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Maddock: I thank the Minister for his reply. It was slightly disappointing, given that this issue has been around for a long time. Various people think that the Government have perhaps not been as strong as they said they would be. At this stage, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 99(3) intimates that a landlord has been using improper meansI understand that there have been plenty of those. It is then a question of the interpretation of those who are threatening eviction because that is as if the words were quoted, not on the basis of an improper threat having been made; rather, there was a proper threat to evict. How that is untangled will ensure that everyone knows what a threat to evict means. However, I hear the Minister's response to my amendment.
The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 136, 137 and 145 are designed to ensure that the interests of landlords are suitably acknowledged and protected by the relevant authorities when it comes to the enforcement of interim management orders. The amendments would amend subsection (3)(b) and the equivalent provision in Clause 110 in relation to final
In short, these amendments seek to ensure that if a local authority takes possession of a house through a final or interim management order, it should make only the changes that are absolutely necessary to ensure the safety and welfare of the occupants. It should not be at the liberty of the authority to make all manner of changes, even though they may be regarded as improvements, over and above what is necessary because that would be at the landlord's expense.
There is in addition the issue of a standardised approach, or rather the lack of one, across the country that may well arise through this clause. Some authorities might want to take more action than others unless the wording of the Bill makes it clear that the actions they take should be directly related to the reasons for their initial involvement. The purpose of these amendments is to make that clear and slightly to reduce the flexibility and freedom of this particular aspect. I beg to move.
Baroness Hamwee: Perhaps I may ask a question on the back of this group of amendments. Although it is not directly on the point, it may provide a brief opportunity for thought rather than my asking it on the debate on whether the clause should stand part.
Clause 102(3)(a) deals, in parenthesis, with the rights of existing occupiersreferring to those rights which are preserved. What is the position of a potential occupier, by which I do not mean just anyone, but someone who has signed an agreement to occupy perhaps the following week and is expecting to do so? While one wants to protect the health and safety of that person, they could nevertheless be very much thrown by the loss of accommodation. Am I correct in thinking that Clause 117 covers the position of someone in that situation? Perhaps I should have turned my head through a 180 degree arc in asking that.
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