The Government has vowed to crackdown on no-fault evictions, a policy which would prevent a repeat of the St Michael’s Gate saga.
Details released this morning (Monday, April 15) show the Government will outlaw Section 21 evictions, meaning private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes with just two months’ notice without good reason.
Controversially in 2016, 72 tenants out of 74 at the St Michael’s Gate estate in Parnwell were evicted by private housing firm Stef & Philips, the managing agents of the properties, which had been bought by Paul Simon Magic Homes.
The properties were then leased by Stef & Philips to Peterborough City Council which used them as temporary accommodation for its rising homeless population.
The council insisted that if did not rent the homes, Stef & Philips would have rented them to another local authority which would have moved homeless families from outside the city into Peterborough, costing local taxpayers millions of pounds.
However, the decision to do a deal with Stef & Philips for nearly £1 million a year provoked condemnation and huge media interest with national and international outlets covering the story.
The issue even prompted a debate in Parliament, while the Peterborough Telegraph launched its own campaign to prevent landlords from being able to repeat what happened at St Michael’s Gate again.
The campaign received support from well-known local figures such as Peterborough United chairman Darragh MacAnthony and was picked up by the Local Government Association which lobbied the cabinet member for housing on the issue.
Jelana Stevic, one of the two tenants on long-term leases who was able to stay at St Michael’s Gate, said: “Some would say better late than never. Section 21 was abused in use and used to gain more rental return on properties by greedy landlords and companies.
“But it’s too late for the 72 households of St Michael’s Gate.”
Ms Stevic said she also wanted to see rents capped at a “reasonable” amount and conversions of homes into Houses of Multiple Occupation to also be looked into.
She added that tenants will still be able to be evicted for late payment of rent, which could affect people who face a delay in receiving their benefits.
Council cabinet member for housing Cllr Peter Hiller said: “I think it’s important to recognise that the vast majority of private landlords are decent, conscientious people who value their reliable tenancies, but I welcome any initiative to end uncertainty for good tenants.
“This consultation is about proposals designed to improve the current situation and provide better security of tenure to those who rent their home and play by the rules.
“The eviction of families from private rented properties without proper reason causes huge personal stress and sometimes homelessness, with the inevitable unsuitablility of temporary accommodation and knock-on cost to taxpayers.”
Under the proposals, landlords will have to provide a concrete, evidenced reason already specified in law for bringing tenancies to an end, a marked difference from the current rules which allows landlords to evict tenants at any time after the fixed-term contract has come to an end, and without specifying a reason.
The Government will now also amend the Section 8 eviction process, so property owners are able to regain their home should they wish to sell it or move into it.
Court processes will also be sped up for landlords to regain their property.
However, today’s announcement has been strongly criticised by the National Landlords Association.
CEO Richard Lambert said: “Landlords currently have little choice but to use Section 21. They have no confidence in the ability or the capacity of the courts to deal with possession claims quickly and surely, regardless of the strength of the landlord’s case.
“England’s model of tenancy was always intended to operate in a sector where Section 21 exists. This change makes the fixed term meaningless, and so creates a new system of indefinite tenancies by the back door.
“The onus is on the Government to get this right. It’s entirely dependent on the Government’s ability to re-balance the system through Section 8 and court process so that it works for landlords and tenants alike.
“The Government should look to Scotland, where they reformed the court system before thinking about changing how tenancies work. If the Government introduces yet another piece of badly thought out legislation, we guarantee there will be chaos.”
Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence.
“But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification.
“This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice.
“This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.”