TENANT INSIGHT: What is a housing court and how could it help you?

In recent years the government has developed new protection for tenants, to help fight against rogue landlords and sub-standard rental properties. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous property owners in the UK are exploiting their tenants.

Local authorities now have the power to ban the most serious offenders from renting out their property. A database of criminal landlords and letting agents has also been created, with talk of this being made available to the public later in 2019. This will enable people to check whether their prospective landlord has ever been convicted of any property violations.

There are also proposals to introduce a special Housing Court for landlords and tenants. It would mean that any disputes between tenants and landlords would be managed in this dedicated forum.


The options for tenants today

Today, any tenant that has problems with a letting agent can either contact the Property Ombudsman or the Property Redress Scheme. But landlords aren’t currently part of the redress scheme so if a tenant deals direct with their landlord, there is no single body for them to turn to.

There is talk of introducing a redress scheme that landlords must sign up to, or establishing a single ombudsman that oversees the entire housing sector. But there’s little formal progress on this at the moment.

If a tenant has an issue relating to their rental deposit, they can contact the deposit protection scheme that’s holding their money. In England and Wales there are three schemes: The Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits or The Tenancy Deposit Scheme. You will have been given details of the relevant one at the beginning of your tenancy.

For some other issues tenants will have to go through the courts – which means pursuing a county court case or a First Tier Tribunal, in line with the legal advice from a solicitor.


Problems with the current system

Pursuing disputes through the courts can be complex and time consuming for tenants, and won’t always result in success. It can be very costly to both tenants and landlords, and take months for them to achieve resolution.

The government has recently run a consultation to assess whether there is sufficient need for a Housing Court to give landlords and tenants better access to justice.


How would a Housing Court work?

A Housing Court would mean that both tenants and landlords would simply follow a single process, rather than having to decide between the current county court and First-Tier tribunal system.

Outlining the plans, James Brokenshire, the communities secretary, said: "Everyone deserves to live in a safe and decent home, and this government is bringing about real change in making renting more secure.

"This is particularly important for families and vulnerable tenants who live with the fear of suddenly being forced to move, or fear eviction if they complain about problems with their home.

"It is also important for landlords who, in a minority of cases, struggle to get their property back when they have reason to do so."

The government will review the results of its consultation and announce its next steps in the coming weeks.


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