On 7 April 2016, Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), often known as voluntary housing associations, were brought under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board. Part 2 of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 provided for this change. Part 2 came into effect on 7 April (by SI 151 of 2016).
Over recent months, we have met with several tenants in voluntary housing who have been affected by the change and through these meetings have identified various preliminary issues and concerns that this change raises.
There has been over the last years a trend towards the provision of social housing through Approved Housing Bodies rather than through local authority housing. The recent Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, published on 17 June 2016, noted that over the past ten years, the slowdown in construction by local authorities has seen AHBs build more social housing than local authorities. From 2010 to 2015, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government statistics indicate that AHBs have completed 3,144 housing units while local authorities have only completed 2,655. An increasing number of social housing tenants will therefore be affected by this change in the law bringing AHBs under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board.
This change in the law means that:
- AHBs must now register their tenancies with the RTB:
- AHBs now have the same rights and obligations as private landlords, with some exceptions.
- AHB tenants now have the same rights and obligations as private tenants, with some exceptions
Evictions being instigated unlawfully under old law
We have met with a number of clients, tenants of AHBs, who have been issued with notices to quit, using the mechanism that applied before 7 April. This is creating considerable upset and confusion for tenants receiving such notices. The tenants are often not aware of the new law, and often mistakenly believe they must leave their property in a very short time period. Crucially, they are then not aware of any right of appeal to challenge the eviction to the Residential Tenancies Board. It is only when they are given legal advice that they are made aware of any deficiencies in the notice to quit and their appeal rights.
Fairer procedures in respect of evictions for local authority tenants, introduced by the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, do not apply to tenants of AHBs – a major issue in terms of fairness and proportionality in protection of home
Local authority housing tenants have considerably more protections than AHB tenants in respect of the fairness of the procedure for evictions. Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015, local authorities must comply with clear procedural rules in carrying out an eviction of a tenant. The District Court is also empowered to review whether an eviction is proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances. There are no such safeguards in place for AHB tenants.
A serious gap in protection for vulnerable AHB tenants – lack of safeguards to ensure any eviction is proportionate, reasonable and follows fair procedures
We recently acted in a case where a very unwell tenant of an AHB. Our client had a psychotic episode. The AHB served her with a notice of termination based on her anti-social behaviour during this psychotic episode. The notice itself was served on the tenant while she was in a psychiatric ward. It gave her seven days to vacate the property, although she was an in-patient for the full seven day notice period. The effect of the notice was that the hospital could not discharge her back to her AHB supported accommodation.
The Residential Tenancies Acts provide very little protection to a vulnerable tenant such as this. If the tenant challenges the validity of the eviction, there is no provision or qualifying language that allows the RTB to look at the context in which any anti-social behaviour may have occurred or for the decision-maker to assess the reasonableness of any decision to terminate a tenancy. There is also no provision for the RTB to take account of the type of accommodation being provided by an AHB and the level of support such AHBs are meant to provide to such vulnerable tenants.
AHBs have been under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board for just three months and we are surprised by the number of issues that have come up in our clinics. There is clear cause for concern that the Residential Tenancies Acts are not designed to protect the vulnerable tenants housed by AHBs. Further reform may be needed to ensure that they are properly and fairly protected. We will continue to monitor this aspect of our casework and hope to bring forward recommendations following our further assessment.
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