The Government has revealed plans for a Housing Court that aims to speed up and improve the quality of decisions in property disputes for landlords and tenants.

The proposals, unveiled by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire MP, will see the Government consult with people who have used courts and tribunals in property cases in England. There are to be separate discussions with the Welsh government for changes to the system in the Principality, with the consultation lasting until 22 January 2019.

Industry happy with proposals

The move has been welcomed by industry figures, with ARLA Propertymark chief executive David Cox saying ARLA, “…are pleased the Government is finally listening to the industry. We have long urged Government to take a holistic approach to the laws governing the private rented sector and are optimistic that today’s announcement is an acknowledgement of the necessity for this approach.”

David Smith from the Residential Landlords Association welcomed the consultation: “Improving and speeding up access to justice in this way would be good news for landlords and tenants. It will help root out criminal landlords more quickly, give greater confidence to landlords to offer longer tenancies.”

The government is looking into introducing three-year minimum tenancies for private rented sector tenants, giving them and their landlords greater security. But a MakeUrMove survey also found that many tenants prefer agreements of at most one or two years.

Since the start of October, all landlords need to comply with the Section 21 eviction rules. This means they must give tenants at least two months’ notice to leave a property once the fixed term has ended, but they are not required to give a reason for the eviction.

Housing cases can currently be heard in a variety of courts – county, first-tier Tribunals, magistrates or even the High Court. It’s a confusing situation that adds time and effort to a process that landlords and tenants can find stressful. The Ministry of Justice has found that on average a successful possession case takes 18 weeks.

Simplifying the system

However the Government wants to canvas views on what it hopes would be ‘a single path of redress for both.’

“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,” Brokenshire said. “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.”

Richard Lambert, chief executive of the National Landlords Association, wants landlords to be able to be able to approach legal proceedings with confidence. “While the majority of tenancies are ended by the tenant, landlords need to be confident they can regain possession of their properties efficiently in the event of a breach of tenancy to effectively manage their business risk.”

An English Housing survey in 2016/17 found that 10% of private tenants left because they were asked to or given notice. With 20% of households in the private rented sector, there is potential for a large number of disputes, so any moves to streamline the process are welcome.