‘No-fault’ evictions need robust adjudication - David Alexander

For some, Boris Johnson was brought down by “wallpapergate”, “partygate” and, finally, the fall-out from “Pinchergate”, all episodes which raised questions about his character.

Was Boris Johnson really a Statist social democrat?
Was Boris Johnson really a Statist social democrat?

For others, especially those on the right of his party, the reasons were more fundamental, i.e. winning an 80-seat majority on a Conservative ticket but then failing to implement promised Conservative policies.

Certainly no-one who voted for Boris expected tax rises although with hindsight this seems understandable given the costs to the Treasury of the covid-19 furlough scheme. The public has also been unforgiving about the soaring cost of domestic energy and, even allowing for the Russia/Ukraine war, have put much of this down to Boris’s un-Conservative signing up to “net zero” which put Green policies above the affordability of domestic heating and hot water. And in England, especially, howls of indignation have followed the government’s abject failure to stop illegal immigration – a problem many Boris voters believed would be sorted by Brexit.

This brought complaints that Johnson self-transformed from a low-tax Tory to a Statist social democrat in the mould of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. If so, one area where this argument may be said to be valid is housing – particularly privately-rented housing.

In this sector various centre-right Conservative governments at Westminster have, over recent years, more or less followed a lead by left-leaning Holyrood in terms of regulation and tenant rights. Now a White Paper includes plans to introduce “no-fault” evictions in England, something that has existed in Scotland since 2018.

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The reaction of Lord Frost (former Brexit Minister and latterly a critic of Johnson) that this “Tory assault on buy to let is another step on the road to socialism” may be a bit extreme but the Conservatives do seem to have come a long way since the days when (while in Coalition with the Lib-Dems) they rejected a more limited proposal from the Labour opposition for guaranteed three-year tenancies.

After four years of experience, landlords and agents in Scotland are in two minds about no-fault evictions. Understandably, some see it as unnecessary government interference in business especially as the practice of landlords replacing one tenant with another to achieve a higher rent was actually rare. Most sensible landlords were reluctant to “trade in” a long-serving and good-paying tenant for some unknown individual person or persons even if it meant the prospect of more income.

On the other hand, increased security of tenure has actually made private renting more appealing so landlords may have benefited too.

However there is one part of the no-fault eviction regime that is not working as it should – and that is the time taken by the Property Chamber (the official adjudicator) to make decisions on the eviction process when a landlord has sufficient evidence the tenant is at fault. At the time the legislation was passed, the Scottish Government promised that as a quid pro quo, it would reduce the time taken to process justified evictions.

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Understandably, covid-19 has contributed to a backlog but setting that aside, more investment is needed. At present it is still too easy for irresponsible tenants to play the system and delay their departure for as long as possible – leaving the landlord substantially out of pocket in lost rental income and legal fees.

For no-fault evictions to work south of the Border, Westminster will need to have a robust adjudication process in place – just as Holyrood should already have.

Footnote: Boris currently owns two homes, one in Oxfordshire, the other in south London, which are said to be rented out. If he wants to move to one of them after leaving Downing Street, under current legislation in England he will have to wait until the lease ends (a one-year contract is likely). Even if the Scottish system was in force in England Boris would be granted possession on the basis that he intended to make the property his “main home”.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

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