Property  

A housing court is needed for landlords and tenants

David Smith, RLA

David Smith, RLA

As the Government acts to end the ability of landlords to regain possession of a property with no explanation, it needs to address one of the major reasons this is used.

Landlords often use this process because it takes an average of over five months to go through the alternative process to have a tenant removed which requires applying to the court and waiting for the slow wheels of justice to move.

During this time the tenant may be refusing to pay any rent or possibly causing anti-social behaviour and being a nuisance to neighbours.

For tenants, the process for taking action against a landlord who fails to meet their obligations can be just as frustrating and very confusing.

A report by Citizens Advice in 2017 found that 45 per cent of tenants wanting to take action against a landlord who takes longer to complete repairs than is normally reasonable are put off by the delay involved.

As many as 54 per cent of them are put off by the complexity of the process.

This is hardly surprising given that, depending on the type of problem they have, tenants and landlords can take their case to the county court, the magistrates’ court or the property tribunal.

Both tenants and landlords are being let down by a court system that is failing to provide justice swiftly when things go wrong.

Data obtained by the RLA shows that the time taken for a claim to be processed varies from over 30 weeks in London to 14 weeks in the South West.

Even the latter figure is a long time for a landlord to go without rent or for a tenant to wait for repairs to the heating and the huge variance between courts starkly illustrates how broken the system is.

The Government has said that its forthcoming Renters’ Reform Bill will include plans that will give landlords “more rights to gain possession of their property through the courts where there is a legitimate need for them to do so.”

It has also pledged to “improve the court process for landlords to make it quicker and easier for them to get their property back sooner.”

But it is hard to see how this Bill can address the lack of funding that plagues the courts in England and Wales.

Instead of tinkering with the current system, what is needed is the establishment of a dedicated housing court.

This could build on the work of the current Property Tribunal and cover matters such as property standards, whether landlords are meeting their legal obligations and repossession cases.

Making use of the Property Tribunal’s in-house surveyors and inspectors would reduce the need for costly, external experts and the more informal operation of the Tribunal, such as holding hearings in local buildings like schools, would also make it less daunting and more accessible for tenants and landlords.