Committee (1st Day)

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 9th February 2016

My Lords, these Benches welcome moves in this Bill to deal with rogue landlords, but this amendment deals with what I believe to be a possible unintended consequence which I think the Government and the Committee should consider.

When a landlord is banned what happens to any existing tenants of that landlord? This Bill lacks clarity in this situation. In Clause 16(4)(a) the implication is that existing tenancies will normally need to be brought to an immediate end with the following wording:

“A banning order may… contain exceptions— to deal with cases where there are existing tenancies and the landlord does not have the power to bring them to an immediate end”,

On the face of the Bill, this seems to suggest that the preferred route in these circumstances would be an immediate end to all other tenancies. The danger here is clear. An immediate end to a tenancy of someone already in the precarious situation of renting from a rogue landlord means for many the threat—or maybe the reality—of homelessness or rooflessness. My amendment tries to provide a safety net for any tenancies who will be in danger of becoming homeless as a result of a ban.

We also need to assume, in a worst case scenario, that the banned landlord has two options. First, he could transfer property to another party. In spite of the list of exceptions in Clause 26, let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the address book of this rogue landlord is not littered with responsible social landlord friends and acquaintances to whom he wishes immediately to transfer his property. The second option is immediate eviction and a quick sale of the property.

This brings me to the tenant. If they are living in appalling conditions, with a bad landlord, but know and understand that their complaint will result in eviction, will their fear of this outcome reduce their likelihood to make use of this welcome change in the law? Will local authorities in turn worry that to ban a landlord will result in more people being accepted as unintentionally homeless on their books? Is there a danger that these tenants will be classified by local authorities as intentionally homeless because of mandatory possession under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988? The risk of that increases with buy-to-let mortgages when landlords get Section 8s in situations of mortgage arrears and repossessions.

I have a further question for the Minister suggested by the amendment: if the exemption in the Bill is in place because of existing tenants, where does that rental income go—directly to a landlord that the local authority is trying to ban at that point in time? The amendment simply attempts to ensure that a possible consequence is anticipated and dealt with in advance by understanding the likely impact on tenants. I guess that there are some ideal scenarios; perhaps the Government should consider an option where the local authority could be given the freedom to step in and appoint a suitable person or agency to manage the other properties, although obviously that would need to be with sufficient resource. Either way, the amendment throws light on an issue in the Bill that needs serious consideration.

Last week the Minister spoke in the Moses Room with great conviction about preventing homelessness. Will she please give an undertaking today to look again at this part of the Bill to ensure that homelessness is not the outcome of a banning order on a rogue landlord? We know that the end of a private tenancy is now the most common cause of statutory homelessness, accounting for 31% of all households accepted as homeless in England and 42% in London. These Benches believe that this part of the Bill has laudable intentions, but if the consequence is to make more people homeless then it is a very high price. I beg to move.