Did anyone else watch the jaw dropping documentary on BBC about the millionaire landlord Fergus Wilson who is carrying out mass evictions of his tenants so that he can retire? He has previously hit the headlines for refusing to accept tenants on benefits, single parents and anyone on zero hours contracts. He became unstuck in 2017 when a court granted an injunction against his refusal to let to Asian tenants – because of the curry smell –
Throughout this documentary he showed nothing but contempt for his tenants and proudly declared his mantra –
‘Basically, we have got two types of tenants – those who agree with me and ex-tenants.’
He reminded me a bit of Bradley Hardaker the wealthy mill owner in the comedy, Brass who complained that his workers enjoyed the beautiful view of his mansion while he had to look done on their miserable hovels!
But what he did do, intentionally or otherwise, was make out a strong case for the reform of tenants’ security. He openly declared –
‘I can do what I like, you don’t want me to lie about it do you?’
And he has a point. Most private tenants have assured shorthold tenancies. These tenancies began back in the late 1980s. I remember speaking at an event in 1989 and warning of the damage that would be done to blameless tenants! I was an angry young lawyer then. I'm an angry old lawyer now. Nothing has changed! They are now covered by the Housing Act 1996. They are fixed term tenancies normally of 6 – 12 months. At the end of the term the tenant can agree a new tenancy, but the rent will almost certainly go up, or they can stay put. In the latter case the rent stays the same, but they have no real security at all. So long as the landlord serves proper notice – how many references were there in the BBC documentary to s21 (Housing Act 1988)??
So Mr Ferguson spoke the truth. After the end of the initial term the landlord can pretty well do what he/she likes.
This has even seen the growing usage of the phrase ‘revenge eviction’ for those who complain of disrepair. One young couple in the documentary agreed in principle to a rent increase but asked about repairs. They were promptly served with an eviction notice. The forthcoming Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act is great news for tenants but could be a double edged sword for some.
Surely the time has now come for a root and branch reform of these outdated and unfair tenancies. They were bad enough back in the days when people could still afford to raise mortgage deposits, when tenants knew that their benefits would cover rent and when there was no housing crisis. In the current climate they must now be put to rest for good.