Statutory protection from eviction

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The law has always recognized that it is traumatic for a person to be evicted from his home, and the rights accorded to a Tenant have always been more extensive if the tenancy is of a dwelling house. The law has also recognized that it is open to a landlord to compel the tenant to leave by increasing the rent to an unmanageable level, so there has typically been legislation to prevent this. For all this, for centuries the law has favoured the interests of the landowner over those of the tenant.

Probably the most radical attempts to redress this balance were made in the 1970s, and culminated in the rent act (1977) and related legislation. This Act made it extremely difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant, even when the original tenancy agreement had expired. It also made it very difficult for the landlord to increase the tenant's rent without following a complex process.

The 1977 Act was very beneficial for tenants in the short term; in the long term it was disastrous. The reason for this was that property owners declined to let their property, for fear that they would never be able to recover it. This led to a massive shortfall in rented accomodation, which consequently became more expensive, and a massive rise in the cost of freehold land, as people who would previously have rented were forced to purchase instead.

Subsequent governments passed legislation that eroded the tenant's rights. The most important enactments were the housing act (1987) -- which replaced the protected tenancy with the assured tenancy -- and the HousingAct1996 -- which introduced the assured shorthold tenancy. The assured shorthold tenancy does give the tenant more rights than a mere licencee, who can be evicted more or less at will, but far fewer rights than under the Rent Acts. In particular, once the original term of the shorthold tenancy has expired, the landlord can recover possession two months after serving a notice on the tenant to that effect.

Whether a person occupies a dwelling as a shorthold tenant, an assured tenant, or as a mere licencee, there is some small protection against eviction provided by the protection from eviction act (1977). Under this Act, no person can be evicted without an order of the court. Most forms of tenant are given a minimum four-week notice period (but this excludes lodgers). In addition, it is made a criminal offence to harrass a person into giving up his accomodation.

Land and Property Law