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Councillor facing homelessness because of weak protections for renters

Councillor facing homelessness because of weak protections for renters
Government had promised to scrap section 21 evictions but is yet to act

A councillor in south London is among those facing being made homeless under England’s laissez faire private renting rules, following a surge eviction notices.

Chloe Tomlinson, who represents the Rye Lane ward in the south London borough of Southwark, has been served a so-called “section 21” notice as part a dispute between her landlord and letting agent.

The government promised to scrap such “no fault” evictions over a year ago but has still not taken action, with landlord groups lobbying against the change.

Ms Tomlinson, who has lived in eight different private rented homes since she moved to London as a teacher in 2014, said the “precarity and instability” of renting was making it difficult for her to put down roots and participate in her local area.

Landlords do not have to give a reason to issue a section 21 eviction notice and can serve one to tenants with just two months’ notice.

In the councillor’s case, her home’s landlord wants to change letting agent because of alleged poor service, but the agent, Foxtons, has told them that bringing any of the tenants over to a new agent would incur a £7,488 fee under their contract. As a result, the tenants are facing eviction.

Renters’ groups said the case showed the importance of Boris Johnson’s replacement as prime minister sticking to plans to bring forward the government’s promised Renters Reform Bill – which which would scrap Section 21 evictions.

“Cases like councillor Tomlinson’s highlight how devastating Section 21 can be in the hands of unscrupulous operators, and underlines the importance of the Renters Reform Bill, which will stop evictions where the landlord has no legitimate ground,” said Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of the campaigning organisation Generation Rent.

“Renters cannot put down roots and contribute to their community if they can be kicked out by a letting agent out of sheer spite. We hope Foxtons sees sense and waives its extortionate fee to let Cllr Tomlinson and her housemates stay put.”

There are no officials records of how many Section 21 evictions are served to tenants each year, as most people issued with a notice comply before it gets to court.

However, between January and March 2022 5,890 landlords in England started court proceedings against tenants to enforce re-possession, up 41 per cent compared to the same period in 2020 before the pandemic.

Ms Tomlinson, who was elected as a Labour councillor in May over 1,000 votes ahead of the next candidate, now faces the prospect of finding a new flat in or near the ward she represents.

“Facing eviction is extremely distressing. Nobody wants to be forced out of their home,” she said.

“We are collateral damage in a dispute which doesn’t involve us. Foxtons could choose to waive the fee and we could remain in our home. Instead they are trying to profit from our situation and they don’t care if we get made homeless as a result. It’s heartlessness and greed from one of London’s largest letting agents.

“All this brings home the precarity and instability of life as a private renter. I’ve lived in over 8 private-rented homes since I first moved to London as a teacher in 2014. There is never any stability or security.

“How are young people and private renters like me supposed to plan our lives, work in our communities, and participate in our local democracies, when we can so easily be forced out of our homes and boroughs? We need an immediate end to no-fault, section 21 evictions.”

The councillor and her housemates had already accepted proposed 13 per cent increase in their rent just three weeks before the Section 21 notice was served. England has no restrictions on the level of rent landlords can ask for.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “For too long private renters have been stuck in cold, mouldy, and dangerous homes powerless for fear of being made homeless by their landlords. A woeful lack of regulation, including Section 21 no fault eviction notices and the lack of a landlord register, leaves tenants unable to hold bad landlords and their unlawful behaviour to account.

“The government’s promised Renters’ Reform Bill will do away with these unfair evictions and empower tenants to stand up to bad behaviour and challenge nightmare conditions. So, whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must make the Bill a reality as quickly as possible.”