The court system is slow, complex, and underfunded. Where a landlord is seeking possession against a tenant who does not pay their rent they have to wait and average of 43 weeks between issue and finally obtaining possession.
It is unacceptable but not entirely surprising that faced with such a long wait some landlords seek to take the law into their own hands and force tenants out.
From the other perspective tenants find the court system equally slow and hard to navigate.
When faced with landlords who are not fulfilling their repairing obligations it is difficult for tenants to establish what their rights are, to obtain expert evidence to prove the disrepair, and to actually get the money that they are owed, or get an order to make a landlord put their property in repair.
As a result tenants are driven to under-funded and over-pressed local authorities who, RLA studies show, only respond to around half the complaints about property standards made to them.
It is for these reasons, among others, that the RLA is calling at this election for the next government to commit to a new, properly funded, housing specialist court, modeled on the existing Residential Property Tribunal.
This would, like the current Tribunal, have its own experts within the Tribunal, removing the need for parties to hire external experts. It would also, again like the current Tribunal, visit properties itself in order to assess their condition, minimising the need for witness statements and arguments over the state of a property.
Again like the current Tribunal, this specialist court could deal with cases on paper where appropriate and also direct parties to mediation to settle their disputes quickly where possible. Most importantly, it would be able to use its specialist knowledge of property and of the law to decide matters without the need for expensive lawyers and long arguments.
This would reduce costs for landlords and tenants, provide better access to justice, and reduce the cost of the process for the parties and for the government.
We know this model works. Scotland has been using a similar specialist tribunal successfully for some time for housing disrepair matters and has now expanded it to cover possession matters as well. Ireland also has a successful specialist housing disrepair Tribunal.
We have invested a great deal into the existing Residential Property Tribunal structure but continually limit its operations to matters involving HMO licensing.
The RLA is calling for that Tribunal to be able to do much more and to use its substantial expertise to benefit the PRS across a wider range of issues.
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