Researchers call for better reporting of landlords who have illegally evicted and harassed tenants
Just 12 landlords were convicted for offences under the Protection from Eviction Act (PfEA) in 2020/21, according to new research by the University of York and the charity Safer Renting.
The researchers also found that of the 7,000 landlords who were brought to the attention of advice agencies and local authorities, only 23 landlords had legal action taken against them following complaints to local authorities and agencies in 2020/21.
Going forward, the researchers are calling for all local authorities and agencies to establish an official annual count of all landlords who have illegally evicted and harassed tenants.
At present, illegal eviction and harassment is the only criminal offence that applies specifically to landlords - while prosecutions under the Protection from Eviction Act are the primary legislation for dealing with that offence.
However, the researchers say the low prosecution figures suggests that the severity of this crime is not currently recognised by the criminal justice system - raising questions as to whether PfEA is fit for purpose as a protective measure.
The researchers believe an official annual count of illegal evictions will highlight the disparity between convictions under the Act and the problems that tenants are encountering in reality.
The researchers contend that the number of prosecutions under the Act is not so much an indicator of the scale of the offences, but more an indicator of the willingness of local authorities to take action.
There is also anecdotal evidence to suggest that tenants are reluctant to take action against landlords, partly because of lack of available evidence, and the time-consuming nature of taking a landlord to court.
Dr Julie Rugg, from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, said: “Because our data collection method only includes individuals who were willing and able to approach advice agencies and local authorities, we believe the 7,000 figure is in fact a substantial underestimate of the incidence of this kind of crime.”
The proposed annual count has two elements: the incidence of prosecutions under the PfEA, and evidence of offences committed under the PFEA.
The two different elements are deemed essential in order to highlight the disparity between convictions under the Act and the problems that tenants are encountering in reality.
Finally, the researchers also say that the strongest rationale for monitoring offences under the Act is a moral one: that these actions are the very worst practices a tenant can experience.
The report also features testimony from Wilma, a tenant who was illegally evicted by her landlord:
“It was so much hardship I have to go through with my daughter. I wish my daughter didn’t have to go through all this ...It was a trauma I experienced…seeing all my daughter's and my belonging was thrown outside the house and I was living in fear that every day we could be thrown out at any time.
“I did ask for the council for help but they reject on the basis of NRPF [No Recourse to Public Funds], I still didn't get any support since then. I had to go through so much …I can't imagine how the landlord could get away with this and not be penalised for such an act.”
The Centre for Housing Policy (CHP) is an interdisciplinary research group focused on increasing equality and quality of life in the built environment.
Established in 1990 with support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, their research priorities link to University of York research themes that include Justice and equality, Culture and communication, Environmental sustainability and resilience, Health and wellbeing and Risk, evidence and decision making. Their research in housing and environment is one of the main research themes for the Department of Social Policy and Social Work.
Safer Renting is a non-profit organisation that is part of the Cambridge House community settlement, based in South London and established in 1889.
Their work is funded by both charitable foundations and through partnership working with twelve London Boroughs, for whom they provide a Tenancy Relations service that includes protecting renters from harassment and illegal eviction, sustaining tenancies and preventing homelessness, and working with our clients to navigate the legal system to secure justice and redress.
Cambridge House is a London-based centre fighting poverty, social inequity and injustice.
As an independent charity, Cambridge House is committed to promoting change that can improve the quality of life and wellbeing of people who are affected by the systemic poverty, social injustice, and inequality in our society.