Landlord associations such as the RLA (Residential Landlords’ Association) are calling for serious changes to the current legal system, in order to provide tenants and landlords with efficient access to justice. The RLA has stated that it considers the current system to be unfit for purpose. Any housing issue is currently dealt with through a variety of criminal and civil tribunals and courts, in a system which is expensive and cumbersome and one which can give unpredictable results to landlords.
In a government consultation on the issue which has subsequently closed, ‘Considering the Case for a Housing Court’, the RLA submitted a response calling for a new court to specialise in housing issues. The organisation claims this would bring all issues concerning areas of the housing sector together in one place. The RLA further stated that it believes the housing court should exist outside of court buildings, inside schools and civic buildings, as well as being judge-led and open outside of usual operating hours. This would make the process more efficient, and relieve the pressure currently put on court buildings.
Under the present system, landlords have found that going through the courts can be extremely frustrating and expensive, especially for cases involving rent arrears. Landlords who have tenants with serious rent arrears wait an average of 22 weeks before gaining possession of the property again. During this period, with no rent being paid, the property is also being potentially damaged by the current tenants.
After this process, the landlord will have to pay court costs, and possibly legal and eviction specialist costs, as well as the huge debt unpaid by the tenant, in addition to refurbishment costs. If their tenant has limited financial resources, landlords frequently have to write off thousands of pounds worth of expenses. Landlords have complained that the process is painful, with an average wait of eight months and heavy financial losses from tenants with rent arrears.
In one severe case, a landlord claimed it took over four years to gain possession of their property, where the process cost a total of £10,000. In contrast, tenants also face an equally frustrating, complex and slow system when private landlords, or local authorities when it comes to social housing, fail to act on disrepair issues. A new court, it is claimed, would improve the process for both parties. A housing court would also become vital in changes to tenure laws, especially in the cases of compulsory long-term tenancies which would effectively remove Section 21 no-fault eviction processes, leaving the conflicting section 8 measure as the only recourse.
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