It is an uncivilised and brutalised society that gives to tenants no legal protection from arbitrary, sudden and unexpected eviction from their homes.
The condemnation must be even worse when the renters in question are elderly and, because of poor health, vulnerable.
Paul and Susan Minns fall into that precise category - Paul has recently had a triple heart bypass operation and has been suffering from repeated breathing difficulties and cardiovascular problems.
But all that has apparently cut no ice with their landlord who, in September, served them with one of the iniquitous ‘no-fault eviction’ notices that, since 1988, have piled misery and insecurity on untold thousands of tenants. According to housing charities, such evictions are the biggest cause of homelessness.
Paul and Susan were given until 1 December to quit their Llanbadarn Fawr home of 15 years. They have no idea why they are being thrown out. Because legislation has allowed landlords to act without explanation. As of last week, the couple had drawn a blank in finding somewhere else to live.
In common with other victims of the no-fault system, there is no suggestion the couple have broken any aspect of their tenancy agreement. Paul, formerly mine host at Downies Vaults in Eastgate and the Gogerddan Arms in Llanbadarn, points out: “We’ve never been in arrears with the rent.”
We should be able to rely on civilised behaviour to rule out such a devastating attack on people who want nothing more than a safe and secure home which, until September, is exactly what Paul and Susan had. But it’s clear we are far from being able to take anything like that for granted.
Legislators, however, have been hopelessly slow and inefficient in coming to the defence of the persecuted in the private rental sector, partly perhaps because few of them will have had first-hand experience of the terror of suddenly, through the cold indifference of others, being made homeless.
Certainly, a new law which came into force in Wales this month means new renters will have to be given six months notice, as opposed to two months previously. But this is to fiddle with a problem that cries out for a radical solution.
No-fault evictions should simply be abolished. And quickly.
That, as it happens, was what was promised by the Conservatives in their 2019 manifesto, a pledge that would have come to the rescue of put-upon renters in England. Disgracefully, Rishi Sunak’s government now appears poised to renege on that assurance.
But the Welsh government’s position is scarcely any better. They have merely tinkered with the regulations and, in so doing, introduced a reform that is bungled because half-baked.
Mark Drakeford’s new six-months notice requirement applies only to new renters, meaning existing tenants, such as Paul and Susan, remain exposed to sudden, unexplained, ‘no-fault evictions’ with as little as two months notice.
Realising its blunder, the government has expanded the new law, which will now encompass existing tenants on so-called rolling tenancies, which have no end date. But these renters face waiting until next June before they become entitled to a six-month, rather than a two-month, eviction notice.
As well as sheer failure to recognise at an earlier stage its exclusion from the new measure of existing tenants, Drakeford’s ministers must stand accused of hopeless timidity in its approach to defending tenants against unfeeling landlords.
The government itself has admitted the way the new housing law was originally drawn up meant that a “significant number” of tenants would remain subject to two-month notice periods for “some years”.
But even now, having admitted its blunder, this Labour government is bending over backwards to oblige landlords, saying there is a “strong case” for applying the expanded changes six months after the act comes into force, “thus allowing landlords time to make any necessary adjustments to prepare for their implementation”.
Does Mark Drakeford not see that, since time immemorial, the cards have been stacked against tenants, with governments traditionally adopting an unwavering laissez-faire stance over absence of meaningful rights for renters, together with non-intervention over the scandal of private-sector landlords frequently renting out ghastly, sub-standard accommodation?
But let’s be grateful for small mercies, because the package of new regulations in the Renting Homes (Wales) Act compels landlords to keep their rented properties in good repair, a requirement which will call for close monitoring.
Shelter Cymru has quite rightly raised the roof over the delay in protection for existing tenants, calling for the expanded new law to take effect this month, alongside the other changes, “to stop a wave of evictions in the months after Christmas”, the charity emphasising how hard it can be for tenants to find a replacement home with two months. Hard? Actually quite often impossible.
Cymorth Cymru, which represents housing services, is warning that delayed implementation of protection for existing renters “will leave existing tenants facing a prolonged and unnecessary period of inequity and uncertainty”.
Katie Dalton, its director, adds: “If people are evicted during that period, they would only have two months to find a new home and, in the current housing market, that would be extremely difficult for many people.”
There is time for the Drakeford government to row back, and without doubt it should do so. It must demonstrate an overriding and urgent allegiance to the well-being of tenants and implement the totality of its package this month, not next June.
After that, it must recognise an overwhelming obligation to go a step further and ban no-fault evictions altogether.